The Jim Joseph Foundation invests in promising Jewish education grant initiatives. We partner with effective organizations that seek to inspire young people to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives.
By Josh Miller on November 21st, 2012
Over recent decades, demographic reports on Jewish life have indicated declining numbers of young Jews choosing to opt into Jewish life. This phenomenon is especially notable among teens, college students and twenty-somethings. In response to these concerning trends, Jewish innovators across the country have developed a wide array of new programs and initiatives targeting these age cohorts.
For those funders interested in supporting efforts with the potential to reverse the demographic trends, a persistent challenge is to identify strategies that provide both breadth and depth. At the Jim Joseph Foundation, we are following the progress of a number of efforts designed to address this very issue. Three specific models – implemented by Hillel, Moishe House, and Jewish Student Connection (formerly Jewish Student Union) – are producing impressive results by deploying innovative Jewish educators within social networks.
Examples of Models that Work
Through a pilot program in which senior level Jewish educators work closely with student interns, Hillel has brought meaningful Jewish learning experiences to many more students by leveraging existing campus networks and cultivating one-on-one relationships. The recently released Two Year Evaluation Summary Report of Hillel's Senior Jewish Educators and Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative and accompanying Case Study by the Monitor Institute document the results of this work. These two reports also indicate that during the past seven years since Hillel began expanding its broader peer-to-peer engagement strategy to a network that now includes 62 campuses, student involvement across the nation has increased from 35 to 48 percent.
Post-college, Moishe House has developed a parallel approach to engage 20-something young adults through Jewish learning experiences hosted in the homes of their young adult peers. Similar to Hillel, Moishe House's strategy achieves both breadth and depth by deploying a small group of talented Jewish educators who train and empower residents in 51 Moishe Houses around the world to offer learning experiences to their friends.
And in the teen space, Jewish Student Connection has developed a model for Jewish teen education that is advancing the Jewish journeys of high school-aged teens. Jewish Student Connection's approach is to build a network of Jewish culture clubs in public and private high schools that are guided by full-time Jewish educator-advisors who focus their attention on building one-on-one relationships with participants. Unlike other Jewish education offerings for teens, their network of 65 school-based clubs meets conveniently on their high school campuses and require no membership or up front commitment.
What can the successes of these three organizations--Hillel, Moishe House and Jewish Student Connection--teach us about how we might achieve the ambitious goal of enriching the lives of the majority of Jewish teens, college students and young adults with meaningful, ongoing Jewish learning experiences?
Achieving Breadth of Reach
Independent evaluations of these organizations indicate that they are reaching participants from diverse Jewish backgrounds. In each case, between one-half to two-thirds of survey respondents fit the profile of having "weak" or "moderate" Jewish backgrounds. To penetrate this market of harder-to-engage young Jews, the organizations utilize strategies designed to appeal to a broad range of potential participants, regardless of their previous Jewish experiences:
Fostering Jewish Learning and Growth
Evaluations of Hillel, Moishe House and Jewish Student Connection demonstrate that participants value experiences that are meaningful, substantive learning opportunities. Participants from all Jewish backgrounds--whether strong or weak--experienced measurable Jewish growth as a result of ongoing participation. Although they serve different age cohorts, Hillel, Moishe House and Jewish Student Connection rely upon similar core strategies for delivering Jewish learning:
Advancing the Conversation
The three organizations discussed here are by no means the only pioneers achieving both breadth and depth through new approaches to Jewish engagement and education. What has caught the attention of the Jim Joseph Foundation is how these three organizations are operating at a scale that reaches tens of thousands of diverse participants across multiple communities. And we are impressed that their evaluation findings clearly demonstrate that Jewish learning outcomes are being achieved.
We welcome a dialogue with other funders and practitioners who are also exploring strategies to achieve both breadth and depth in Jewish learning. Sharing lessons learned and best practices will advance the field and ensure that the most successful models are adapted and scaled.