MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN JEWISH EDUCATION
Since its inception, the Foundation has awarded more than 900 grants. Some have created new Jewish engagement initiatives; some have created more effective Jewish educators; and others have supported resources to make our field better networked and more sophisticated. The common denominator: they all directly influence Jewish education. Below are highlights of selective core areas of focus and achievements of the last two years. Learn about the work of additional grantees that have been featured on our website here.
Creating a Spark for Jewish Teen Learning and Engagement
Over the last two years, the Foundation affirmed its commitment to creating compelling teen Jewish learning opportunities. Early in 2013, the Foundation released the far reaching report, Effective Strategies for Educating and Engaging Jewish Teens: What Jewish Communities Can Learn from Programs that Work. Working closely with other funders throughout the research process, the Foundation sought to address the dramatic drop in young peoples’ Jewish educational engagement during the teen years. The Foundation commissioned the report—under the guidance of an Advisory Group of funders, teen education experts, and teens—to examine teen programming models, both inside and outside the Jewish world.
Following the study’s release, the Foundation shared key findings and best practices for teen education and engagement in a variety of channels, with the goals of catalyzing ideas for new initiatives that will provide more opportunities for teens to opt-in to meaningful Jewish learning and life experiences. These efforts led to the formation of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative, a coalition of national and local funders with plans to co-invest in up to ten new community-based teen education initiatives in the United States. To support these communities with ongoing strategic guidance, the Foundation established the National Incubator for Community Based Jewish Teen Education Initiatives, led by The Jewish Education Project. The Foundation has begun to award grants to communities–Boston, Denver, and New York, thus far–to implement their own Jewish teen initiatives, built around a set of shared measures of success developed by the Funder Collaborative participants. Simultaneous to these important developments, The Jewish Education Project, along with Rosov Consulting and American Institutes for Research, is developing cross-grant evaluation tools so that outcomes of individual community-based initiatives can be compared and analyzed together.
Through these efforts and others, the Foundation helps to reverse the trend of Jewish teen disengagement from communal life. Established organizations such as BBYO and newer ones such as Jewish Student Connection and North Shore Teen Initiative are a part of this teen engagement story as well, developing leaders and making Jewish life more accessible. Since 2006, nearly 14,000 Jewish teens have engaged with Jewish learning opportunities created in part by Foundation grantees.
Empowering Young Jewish Adults to Shape Their Jewish Journeys
The post-college years present many major life decisions for young adults. Life-long friendships are secured, significant others are chosen, and general lifestyle choices are made—and acted upon. Engaging young adults Jewishly and helping them choose to live vibrant Jewish lives during this time is both critical and challenging.
We have incredible opportunity. Nearly 300,000 Birthright alumni now live in the U.S. How do we reach and engage them effectively? No single organization can do it alone, but collectively grantees implement strategies that empower young Jewish adults to shape their Jewish journeys. Moishe House is in the midst of implementing a $6 million strategic growth plan. It now has 71 houses in 17 countries. Its residents receive subsidized rent and stipends to create Jewish life and learning opportunities for young adults in these communities—it’s estimated that more than 95,000 young adults will be involved with Moishe House by 2016-2017. Repair the World continues to grow, offering new programs for young adults to engage Jewishly through service learning fellowships. And NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation has significantly expanded its network of engagers—the professionals and volunteers who interact directly with young Jewish adults—training, resourcing, and supporting them so they can best engage young Jewish adults.
These grantees and others are reaching Jews in formative years of their lives, creating more and more opportunities for them to create Jewish life in both personally relevant and communally-connected ways.
Creating Effective Jewish Educators
Jewish educators make Jewish learning dynamic and meaningful. Whether that learning takes place at a camp, in a school, at a volunteer site, or anywhere else, meaningful Jewish learning is dependent on having equally as effective Jewish educators. How can teachers bring a pertinent, contemporary, and accessible Judaism to the classroom, the campus, the bunk, and beyond? How can they engage and inspire the “global citizens” who are the youth and young adults of today? They need an arsenal of tools and a variety of skill sets to address the diverse needs, interests, and talents of their students.
In 2008, the Foundation challenged leadership from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC), The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and Yeshiva University (YU) to identify an area of common interest. The institutions coalesced around a hypothesis that was – and continues to be – a core principle of the Foundation: more and better trained educators are needed to support the growing and changing field of Jewish education. In particular, institutions identified a need for new and dynamic educators to work with youth and young adults in a variety of settings.
To support this effort, the Foundation awarded three $15 million grants—known as the Education Initiative—to support the development of degree, certificate and leadership programs for Jewish educators. Through the Jim Joseph Foundation Education Initiative, 18 new graduate programs of education were designed and launched, many of which were new models of professional development for educators working in the field. By 2015-16, more than 1,200 educators will have received graduate degrees or advanced credentials in Jewish education with the support of the Foundation. Learn more about the Initiative’s progress over the last two years, and the numerous programs and educators developed as a result.
Other Foundation-supported institutions, such as Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and Mechon Hadar, continue to develop highly talented educators as well. Moreover, the iCenter, which has emerged as a field-leader in Israel education, offers specialized training to help educators make Israel a central part of learning in a range of educational settings. In total, since 2006, nearly 8,000 Jewish educators have received some form of training from Foundation-supported initiatives.
Simply creating more effective Jewish educators alone is not enough. The field needs infrastructure and networks to support these practitioners and to offer the best resources and relevant information. Websites like JData and the Jewish Survey Question Bank are important repositories for data and information. Additionally, following the lead of The AVI CHAI Foundation, the Jim Joseph Foundation is investing in a long-term effort to ultimately create an evidence base for Jewish educational practice. The Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE) initially involved more than 350 individuals in the development of potential research ideas in Israel Education, Jewish Educational Leadership, and the Sustainability of Jewish Education.
With additional grants in 2014, this collaboration of such diverse individuals is positioned to catalyze an entirely new generation of applied research to inform, improve, and enrich Jewish education on an ongoing basis. CASJE will expand its efforts further to create new spaces for scholars and practitioners to interact and to learn from one another. This exciting collaborative endeavor is key to bringing research findings to the practitioners, ultimately, and to involve them in improving the Jewish education experience.
Foundation for Jewish Camp: A Strong Partner in Jewish Education
In so many ways, the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) helps to make Jewish learning dynamic, fun, and accessible for families across the country. The Jim Joseph Foundation is fortunate to work with FJC on multiple initiatives to create even more of these learning opportunities. Grants to FJC total $30.6 million, making it the second-largest Foundation grantee.
Specialty Camps Incubators
Through Specialty Camps Incubator I, five new Jewish camps launched in 2010, each with a specialty that blends Jewish learning and culture. They attract new families to Jewish summer camp, and by numerous measurements—from “feeling Jewish” to “Jewish knowledge” to “involvement in Jewish life”—the camps are a positive influence on campers’ lives. Beyond this, specialty camps offer opportunities for youth to build authentic, personal connections with their Jewishness. As the camps of Incubator I transitioned to sustainability in 2014, four new camps of Incubator II—Camp Zeke, Camp Inc., JCC Maccabi Sports Camp, and URJ Six Points Sci-Tech Academy—opened for their first summer in 2014, building on the first cohort’s success. In total, 2,055 youth attended Jewish specialty camps this past summer. Learn more about the Specialty Camps.
JWest Campership Program
From 2008 – 2014, nearly 3,400 youth ages 11-13 year experienced the fun and learning of Jewish camp for the first time, thanks to financial incentives and new marketing techniques that were part of the JWest Campership program. Targeting the JWest region that includes 23 western region overnight camps, the program especially succeeded in diversifying the types of campers at camp—including more campers from interfaith families, more campers from middle and lower income families, and more campers from Russian speaking backgrounds. The JWest NEXT Institutional Strengthening Program built on the original program by providing professional development and one-on-one mentorship to help camps with marketing and recruitment strategies. Learn more about Jwest Campership Program.
The Nadiv program, supported in collaboration with The AVI CHAI Foundation, is a ground-breaking pilot initiative that created six new positions for Jewish experiential educators. Each educator is shared by a Jewish summer camp and a day or congregational school, maximizing the talent and the Jewish learning opportunities the educator helps to create. Developed in close coordination with the Union for Reform Judaism, Nadiv is an experiment in collaborative efforts to share ideas and best practices across multiple organizations and networks. Learn more about Nadiv.