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Posted on May 26th, 2015

A 5-Point Plan to Build Your Local Engager Network

By Dan Fast and Adam Pollack

Since 2012, we have witnessed the growth of local networks for Jewish engagement professionals – “engagers” who are responsible for Jewish millennial engagement and programming – in cities across the country, including Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Philadelphia, and more. These networks serve as local engager hubs, complementing a national network such as the NEXTwork. They also uniquely further engagement efforts by:

  • Increasing trust, mutual respect, and transparency among local engagers;
  • Accelerating knowledge, skill-sharing, collaborations, and connectional intelligence – a term coined by business/leadership consultants Erica Dhawan and Saj-nicole Joni that emphasizes “driving innovation and breakthrough results by harnessing the power of [our] relationships and networks”;
  • Diving deep into the nuances and needs of Jewish millennials and engagement issues; and
  • Serving as local platforms for professional development and peer mentoring and support.


For engagers – most of whom are millennials – working connected “to get things done and develop creative solutions to challenges” is a natural concept that supersedes any organizational politics and related barriers to collegial partnerships and collaboration. In successful local networks, we’ve seen engagers and their organizations move past perceived differences, and into mutual respect, trust and openness, leading to the creation of new, innovative engagement strategies and programs. After some time, we’ve seen these outcomes lead engagers – and their communities as a whole – to better engage young Jews by building more integrated and cooperative landscapes.

We realize others may seek to create networks in their own communities, so, from our experiences, here are the key steps to get a local engager network off the ground:

Step 1: Determine if you are well-positioned to convene a network. A well-positioned organization and leader needs to convene the network. This means an organization with a solid grasp on the local Jewish landscape, strong collegial connections, and the bandwidth to coordinate the group. We’ve seen JCCs, Hillels, Federations, and others take on the convenor role in different communities. It’s a great opportunity to collaborate!

Step 2: Create a list of local professional engagers and meet with them individually. If you already meet and communicate regularly with fellow engagers, that is a good start. If not, now is the time to open those lines of communication, which will help you understand their specific interests and needs. Practice active listening in these conversations: find out what each person wants to achieve, what they value, and what frustrates them. In order to create a supportive network, you’ll first need to deeply understand the needs of the local landscape.

Step 3: Meet up! Convene the group to increase everyone’s understanding of the local landscape and to establish a shared purpose for the network. This meeting should be led by you or another strong facilitator in your community. Elise Peizner, Director ofJconnect in Seattle, told us that having a “third-party facilitator [NEXT] helped level the playing field – it made people feel equal which was an important goal for us.” Regardless of who facilitates, be sure to:

  • Communicate the meeting’s purpose in advance.
  • Use safe space guidelines to encourage open conversation among participants.
  • Start with a relationship-building activity to establish new professional relationships and strengthen existing ones.
  • Map out the community, identifying areas of both engagement saturation (overserved geographic and/or program areas) and opportunity (underserved areas).
  • Determine meeting frequency, duration, and focus through consensus, to set expectations and keep the group focused moving forward.

Step 4: Define priorities. Let the network’s shared purpose and core values, which should be discussed and agreed upon in a subsequent meeting, be your “true north.” Evaluate the network’s effectiveness in responding to engager needs periodically through individual and whole-group check-ins and surveys. Be sure to capture and track this data, as it tells the network’s growing story and can highlight successes and where additional progress is needed.

Step 5: Continue cultivating relationships. Utilize your individual check-ins as a method to monitor participants’ feelings on their involvement (is it meeting their needs?) and continue building the participant list (who else should be at the table?).

As your network continues to meet, additional needs and questions will emerge (such as, “can we create a forum for our volunteer leaders?”) and your role as network convenor will continue to evolve. But these steps build the foundation for strong networks in which new communication lines between organizations have opened, deeper collaborative relationships have blossomed, and most importantly, young Jews find it easier to navigate the Jewish life landscape and get involved!

If you run a local engager network, what advice would you give to a new network convenor? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Adam Pollack is the Senior Western Regional Director at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation and can be reached at [email protected] Dan Fast is the outgoing Senior Northeast Regional Director at NEXT and can be reached at [email protected]


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Posted on May 6th, 2015

Helpful Insights From a Working Funder Collaborative

By Ellen Irie, Informing Change, and Reuben Posner, Combined Jewish Philanthropies Boston 

Recently, a group of 15 different organizations (15!) released a case study –Finding New Paths for Teen Engagement and Learning: A Funder Collaborative Leads the Way – detailing the two-years they’ve spent working together, learning about and investing in Jewish teen education and engagement initiatives. There are a litany of insights and interesting lessons to pull from the study, which we believe are beneficial to organizations well beyond the Jewish teen education and engagement arena (and even beyond the Jewish education arena). In fact, funders in all philanthropic sectors are increasingly pooling or coordinating funding for greater impact, or to address particularly challenging social and environmental problems. Because of this trend in collaborative efforts, we – one of us the evaluator who wrote the case study, and the other a member of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative – want to highlight key items that have been integral to the development and initial successes of this funder collaborative.

First, let’s start from the beginning. This funder collaborative – different from many others – formed early connections around research, specifically a report, Effective Strategies for Educating and Engaging Jewish Teens. There was a mutual desire of all involved to make sense of the research learnings and to determine strategic ways to move forward, fund, and implement the best practices identified in teen education and engagement.

While other collaboratives often come together on a wave of dissatisfaction or frustration, or when one funder has a single idea and wants to build support for that alone, in this instance the research created a shared learning environment. Open discussion and creative ideas were, and are, encouraged. As a result, the various local funders “around the table” have access to many voices all focused on teen education and engagement – a rarity and a real value-added for these individuals given that their organizations focus on many areas of Jewish engagement. Now, the Collaborative is their unique space for delving deeply into this specific area.

Second, the Collaborative benefited from members’ shared beliefs, knowledge of the issue, and particularly shared experiences. The first two points admittedly are not entirely unique. Many collaboratives might bring individuals and organizations together around an issue about which all care deeply and are knowledgeable – be it homelessness, the environment, hunger, or other societal challenges. But this collaborative brought talented, passionate people together who live their work and have common experiences – Jewish life cycle events, trips to Israel, and other formidable moments – that are unique to this group. These common experiences, the close linkage between work and personal life, and the now multiple years of working together for a common goal have led to very genuine, strong relationships between Collaborative members. There is a true sense of a “team” because everyone wants to be a part of the Collaborative.

With this relationship-based environment, the Collaborative is positioned to do much more than just try to fix the problem by merely aggregating funds or aligning grants. Instead, Collaborative members aggressively tackle large challenges and problems where solutions have been frustratingly elusive. Participants say that learning and problem-solving together has been one of the reasons they stay in the group, participate actively, and take on the local initiative work. They appreciate that the Collaborative is a space beyond their home communities. It offers different voices, and similar to traditional chavruta study, members interact with each other in ways that push their thinking and creativity.

Third, the dynamic of national-local partnerships has many benefits. From a funding standpoint, the challenge that the Jim Joseph Foundation offered has been a catalyst for change in the five local communities that already have implemented initiatives. Beyond the funding, collaborative members from local communities take conversations that start within the Collaborative framework – i.e. measurement of Jewish growth outcomes, developing sustainable programs, and the like – and bring them back to colleagues working in areas outside of the specific Jewish teen education arena. In other words, local foundations and federations who commit staff time to the Collaborative are seeing benefits across their organizations.

A final key ingredient for the Collaborative’s success was clear-eyed and generous leadership. As discussed previously, the Jim Joseph Foundation committed money and time of Foundation staff, and did it looking to create something positive for all involved. The Foundation had clarity about its own objectives and hoped-for outcomes, but also a realistic appreciation that the Collaborative would have to both challenge and meet the individual needs of the funders in the group.

Now entering its third formal year, the Collaborative has an impressive number of accomplishments, which not all funder collaboratives can claim within such a short time: active participation by a consistent group; funding commitments for new initiatives in more than half of the participating communities; common measures of success adopted by all; and a cross-community evaluation that will aggregate data across multiple initiatives.

Collaborative members continue to address the common challenges that all communities face, regardless of unique characteristics or size, regarding Jewish teen education and engagement: how to increase it, how to sustain it when you get it, how to assess whether teens are gaining any lasting benefits. There is an excitement around being a part of something that is new, challenging, and, at least initially, effective all at the same time. And while we understand that no two funder collaboratives are alike, we believe that these insights can help other organizations who strive for deeper collaborations that simultaneously increase learning and strategic grantmaking.

Ellen Irie is President and CEO of Informing Change. Reuben Posner is Director of Youth Engagement at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. Read the full case study here about the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative, comprised of four national funders and funder representatives from ten communities.

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Posted on April 9th, 2015

Creating 21st Century Jewish Experiences: A Look Back at the 2015 Council of American Jewish Museums Annual Conference

By Lori Starr, Executive Director of The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco

From March 8 – 10, 2015, The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) was delighted to host the 2015 Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) Annual Conference. Over 250 delegates convened at The CJM, as well as the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at UC Berkeley, for animated discussions revolving around the conference’s theme: “Open Source:  Jewish Museums and Collaborative Culture.” Inspired by the Bay Area’s status as a national symbol and a harbinger of the future, the conference explored how California’s experiments in the social, cultural, political, and economic realms can inform Jewish museum practices.

CAJM participants enjoying a performance by “The Crooked Jades,” and the activated Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman exhibition

Even before the conference began, building community was a focal point. I was so touched by the opportunity, made possible by the generous support of the Jim Joseph Foundation, to host a special dinner at my home for the early-arriving attendees, preceded by a special Havdallah ceremony and architecture tour of San Francisco’s Temple Emanu-El. It was a wonderful way to introduce the CAJM participants to our local Jewish community.

The first day of CAJM included the conference’s plenary session, which I was thrilled to moderate. “The Anticipatory Museum” keynote address explored the question of how Jewish museums must change to anticipate societal transformations—demographic, technological, and cultural. Skyping in from Warsaw was NYU Jewish historian and cultural scholar, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. She spoke about the new POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, and how it acts as an agent of social change in the country by reconnecting Jews of Polish ancestry with more than 1,000 years of their history in Poland and, in turn, introducing the Polish people as a whole to their country’s and culture’s deep interconnectedness with Jews.

 Rabbi Noa Cushner speaking about her spiritual “start-up,” The Kitchen, during the March 8 plenary session

Rabbi Noa Cushner speaking about her spiritual “start-up,” The Kitchen, during the March 8 plenary session

Rabbi Noa Kushner, founder of San Francisco’s The Kitchen, shared her experience creating a spiritual start-up and practicing “irreverent reverence”—the creation of a community where there are no insiders or outsiders and where the primary concern is that Jewish practices be relevant. She encouraged Jewish museums to recognize the diversity of points of view of their visitors and meet them where they are—Jewish, non-Jewish, agnostic, atheistic, believing. Along with this approach she also urged museums to de-emphasize offering opportunities for visitors to consume “Jewish culture” and instead help visitors participate in the act of “doing something Jewish.”

Hillary Moss, lead strategist and researcher for the La Placa/Cohen-New York Times study Culture Track 2014, rounded out the conversation by sharing key findings about millennials and their museum-going habits and desires.  She cited several trends that CAJM attendees would be wise to note, including that younger people don’t feel the same loyalty to cultural institutions as older generations did, and they tend to see the museum-going experience as an intensely social activity to be done (or shared digitally) with friends. Ms. Moss’ call to action was for Jewish museums to recognize this as a transitional moment and boldly experiment with new ways of engaging with younger audiences through social media and social interaction.

CAJM attendees also had the opportunity to explore Ai Weiwei’s @Large exhibition on Alcatraz Island

CAJM attendees also had the opportunity to explore Ai Weiwei’s @Large exhibition on Alcatraz Island

Among other highlights of the conference was the final session on philanthropic trends entitled “Measuring Impact:  New Directions in Philanthropy.” Lucy Bernholz, Visiting Scholar at Stanford’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, spoke to the intrinsic need for good measurements of philanthropic impact in the digital age—pointing to not only quantitative metrics, but also to the tremendous value of the qualitative, the affective, and learning outcomes.  Chip Edelsberg, Executive Director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, discussed the acceleration of change in the digital era, and how public measures of philanthropy are in flux.  He also discussed the rise of investment-style philanthropy, where mission alignment between the funder and the fundee is key, and mutually agreed upon outcomes are monitored, reported, and amended as organizations and circumstances evolve.  He stressed trust as a critical pre-requisite for a healthy relationship between funders and fundees, along with a shared commitment to success, and open and ongoing communication.

Stephen Smith and Michael Abramowitz, presenters during the March 10 session, “The Future of Holocaust Education”

Stephen Smith and Michael Abramowitz, presenters during the March 10 session, “The Future of Holocaust Education”

In hosting CAJM’s 2015 Annual Conference, The CJM was intentional about grounding the conference in the daily activities of The Museum. Most conferences take place in hotels or conference centers, but this one took place when The CJM was at the height of its public programming.  In addition to hearing from thought-leaders and engaging with colleagues, CAJM attendees could explore multiple exhibitions, attend gallery tours, view the new Lamp of the Covenant installation in The CJM’s Koret Taube Grand Lobby, attend education programs for preschool students and their families, and hear a live performance by local artists “The Crooked Jades.” In doing so, CAJM participants were immersed in the real work of The CJM—giving them a first-hand look at how The Museum is advancing our mission to make the diversity of the Jewish experience relevant for a 21st century audience.

Lori Starr is the Executive Director of The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. She previously served as Executive Director of the Koffler Centre of the Arts, Toronto, and as Senior Vice President and Museum Director of the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

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Posted on March 17th, 2015

Two-Year Faculty Development Program Represents a Microcosm of CCNMTL’s Work at Columbia

Maurice Matiz is Director of the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL). This blog originally appeared on the CCNMTL website.

Last week, CCNMTL reached two important milestones: the center completed its 15th year of operations, and the eLearning Faculty Fellowship (eLFF) concluded its two-year run. The appreciative smiles on the part of the eLFF faculty fellows reminded me how much that program represents a microcosm of CCNMTL’s 15 years.

The eLFF program provided year-long support for two sets of faculty fellows selected from three participating schools (Jewish Theological Seminary, Yeshiva University, and Hebrew Union-Jewish Institute of Religion). It was made possible because of our existing successful partnership withJTS and support from the Jim Joseph Foundation.

eLFF2015Round.JPGA cohort conversation to discuss program implications for each institution.

Faculty participating in the eLFF program—mostly self-selected, though a few were nominated—sought exposure to educational technologies that they felt could help them become more effective teachers. This is similar to how and why Columbia faculty have approached CCNMTL over the years. There is a yearning to understand the fast-moving technology front, and one sure way is to seek assistance from experts who are also willing guides, such as our educational technologists (ETs). The field is highly dynamic, and it can be difficult to sort through dozens of tools and platforms without such guidance.

Faculty in the eLFF program started out unsure and lacking confidence in their grasp of new technologies. Similarly, over the years we have encountered many Columbia faculty who are wary of their own abilities to master any classroom technology beyond the chalkboard. CCNMTL staff become therapists of a kind, boosting instructors’ confidence and believing in their ability to learn new technologies and incorporate them into their pedagogy. Our ETs use many tactics, including starting small, or encouraging more time-on-task, knowing that familiarity will overcome uncertainty. Our ETs also understand that teaching is a performance, which can breed anxieties of its own, and that the technology experimentation can lead to more exposure—additional time “on stage” and more opportunities to miss a cue.

eLFF2015Workshop.JPGFaculty fellows describe their experience with technology in the classroom.

At the eLFF symposiums, held after each year’s program, the faculty spoke expertly and with confidence, demonstrating how they’ve integrated video lectures, collaborative editing tools, presentation tools that go beyond the staid PowerPoint, and other cutting-edge technologies into their classroom and curriculum. We saw faculty learn how to evaluate new tools and new technologies. We saw caring educators, investing time and energy in media and educational activities that help students learn more effectively. For the CCNMTL staff, seeing that transformation was quite rewarding, and echoes much of what we have experienced over the years working with Columbia faculty.

A select few in the eLFF program came with some prior experience or jumped in with such earnest enthusiasm that they immediately pulled ahead of their less experienced colleagues. For these technophiles, the program became fertile ground to develop a latent interest or capability. Likewise, over the years, a few pioneering Columbia faculty have proudly showcased possibilities and innovations in the classroom. This important subgroup leads to rapid results that help to inspire others.

The eLFF was at its heart a faculty development effort, and I applaud the three schools for taking steps to provide strong support for their faculty, allowing them to explore and experiment with their teaching methods. Each of the three schools’ administration aims to create a sustainable educational technology support group, much like Columbia did with CCNMTL 15 years ago. The eLFF program certainly gives them excellent results to build on, and vocal faculty advocates to lead the way.

The eLFF program was a collaboration with Deborah Miller and Debbie Kerschner from JTS, Rob Weinberg and Gregg Alpert from Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, and Allison Rubin and Judith Cahn from Yeshiva University. At CCNMTL, the program was led by Dan Beeby, Kenny Hirschmann, and Ellen Maleszewski.

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Posted on November 14th, 2014

A Backstage Experience

By Steven Green and C. Casper Casparian

Who would have the audacity to think it is a good idea to bring 36 camp and school directors to the most magical place on earth, Disneyland, and not allow them to go on any rides?  No Space Mountain; no Soarin’; not even a glimpse of the digitally re-mastered Captain EO.  As a training exercise, the Foundation for Jewish Camp oriented professionals from Jewish summer camps, day schools, and religious schools to some of the marketing, business, and operational strategies implemented by the Disney Company, through a program known as the Disney Institute.

We were fortunate to participate in this opportunity for businesses and organizations to learn and see firsthand the culture and practices that Disney has cultivated. FIFA, for example, utilized the Institute as part of its training for 15,000 workers before the 2010 World Cup. For FJC, the Disney Institute was a four-hour, guided, behind-the-scenes tour of the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, CA.

To be clear, this is not any kind of endorsement of the controversial, oft-panned character of Walt Disney himself. As an institution since 1955, this theme park is part of The Walt Disney Company, an enterprise that owns ABC and Marvel among others, maintains a market cap of $150 billion, and is one of the forty largest companies in the world.  As one would expect, our experience “behind-the-scenes” was a fascinating look at what it truly means to pay attention to detail. Sharing all of the insights and tour moments would be exhaustive, to be sure. Here are a few highlights of the learnings that Jewish camp directors experienced, and that apply to creating a special environment for Jewish learning.

Small Details and Big Ideas Both Make a Difference

As we entered the Disneyland theme park, we stopped first at a trashcan. That’s right—a simple, metal trashcan, one of hundreds strategically located throughout the park.  Disneyland actually was the first place to have the now-common, covered metal trashcans with the swinging door that hides trash. This was a response to the rubber bins that would start to show remnants of trash spewing out overtop after about an hour of sitting idle.  In order to mitigate this problem, Disney put metal cans around each of these and named them, adoringly, the $2,000 trashcans.  Over the course of three years, with purchasing and upkeep, this is the approximate cost.  But it is worth it to the establishment to maintain the sanctity and pristine nature of the park.

And the trashcans really were the tip of the iceberg. In an effort to make Disneyland an oasis, it’s created a 360 degree experience for the consumer. As far as the eye can see, there is the theme park. Other buildings—including the 3rd largest Hilton in the world located behind the California Adventure Theme Park—are strategically obstructed by huge cartoon mountains.

Camp, too, is a Jewish learning oasis. Camp directors understand that their camps’ physical space should both reflect this and maximize its potential. This does not mean that every camp will move to the wilderness.  Rather, every camp can create a boundary where the camp experience begins, and that space should be purposefully designed and curated by the camp. With this in mind, camp directors can take a closer look at removing distractions that impede camps from pursuing their missions and creating the best setting possible.

An Employee-Friendly Culture

Disneyland has created an environment for its “cast members”—its term for employees—to remind them they are part of a production in its entirety.  The “show” requires each members’ participation. To cultivate this, Disney offers a separate village backstage which incorporates a coffee shop, bank, store, show ticket depot, and even a weekly florist.  Areas exist throughout the park where customers are not permitted to enter with the exception of the occasional backstage tour.

Camps—in the seemingly never-ending quest to find employees, train them, and retain them—pay close attention to supporting staff, and to giving them the tools to perform their jobs. Staff are critical in camper retention and in delivering the optimal camp experience. We know that some directors, following the Institute, are looking closely at what else they might be able to do to get the most out of staff. Maybe this means assigning or improving a separate space for camp staff to escape during off hours. Maybe it means making certain everyday household and personal items more readily available.

It Takes a Village

Finally, abundantly clear was the collective effort it takes to make Disneyland operate effectively at such a high level of customer service. Personnel are charged with the magnanimous feat of working together and understanding their fluid roles and responsibilities. Over the course of our four hour tour, our guide did a lot more than simply guide us. He took pictures of people when requested, picked up trash, and repeatedly acknowledged passersby celebrating a special occasion.  This was all while successfully leading a 20-person contingent of educators and administrators.

What a great model for camps and their staff. Camp staff roles may not be entirely interchangeable, but the more that team members have an attitude of collective responsibility and at least an understanding of the various roles, the better the experience will be for the campers. Of all settings, camps can strive to have a true team structure and reinforce the concept espoused in the Talmud, “Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh” - all of Israel are responsible for each other.

Disneyland’s 16.2 million visitors in 2013 certainly did not interact with the executives at Disney. Rather, those customers interacted with some of the 65,700 employees who have the necessary skills and training to help each of these individuals get the best experience at a Disney theme park, with the hope that it would not be the last.

Even at a summer camp with 500 participants, it is not easy for a camp director to get to know each camper individually. But certainly all staff members can be welcoming and approachable—as we know they are. Just as staff members should be comfortable offering assistance to everyone, campers of all ages should be comfortable approaching them.

Time and again, camp has proven to be one of the most effective Jewish learning environments. It is immersive, dynamic, and—simply—fun. These highlights from a tour of Disney’s operations are a nice reminder to always look to perfect, to innovate, and to build a foundation for success. This is not an assertion that non-profits should be more like for profit businesses. Rather, these are “transferrable” concepts to strive for the best customer service experience and to create an intentional staff culture of collectivity. A camp hitting on all cylinders will offer campers a compelling summer of Jewish engagement and learning, filled with friends and, yes, fun.

Steven Green is the Director of Grants Management and Administration for the Jim Joseph Foundation.

C. Casper Casparian is owner of CMC, LLC, a strategic marketing communications firm in Los Angeles. He helped conceive and launch the One Happy Camper incentive program with the Foundation for Jewish Camp and has worked with Jewish summer camps in the Western states since 2008.

Strategic priority:

Posted on November 3rd, 2014

Making Philanthropic Investments Last: The Role of Financial Sustainability

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of pieces on the Jim Joseph Foundation’s Education Initiative by Drs. Mark Schneider and Yael Kidron of American Institutes for Research (AIR). The Education Initiative consists of three major grants of $15 million each to support graduate programs of education at Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC), The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), and Yeshiva University (YU). AIR is the independent evaluator conducting ongoing assessment of various aspects of the initiative. This first piece shares insights and lessons learned about the institutions’ financial sustainability plans for programs supported through the Education Initiative.

By Dr. Mark Schneider and Dr. Yael Kidron

Launched in 2010, the Jim Joseph Foundation’s Education Initiative has supported the development and expansion of 18 degree and certificate programs as well as leadership institutes at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion (HUC-JIR), The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), and Yeshiva University (YU).

The Jim Joseph Foundation provided the resources needed for program development, staffing, student tuition assistance, and marketing/recruitment activities. The investment was substantial – each institution received $15 million over a period of up to six years. As part of its independent evaluation of the Education Initiative, American Institutes for Research (AIR) assessed how well the three grantees not only delivered high quality programs, but also how well they planned to sustain these programs into the future after the Jim Joseph Foundation’s investment wound down.

As part of its activities, AIR researchers reviewed the institutions’ financial sustainability plans for each of the programs supported by the Education Initiative. Financial sustainability requires careful planning, typically using a dynamic document that is reviewed and revisited periodically. Such a document – the financial sustainability plan – describes strategies to contain costs and to cover them through fundraising and program revenues.

Informing Financial Sustainability Plans Through Break-Even Analysis

A common tool in financial planning is break-even analysis, which identifies the circumstances in which costs and revenues are balanced. We developed a program-level Break-Even Analysis Calculator, allowing program administrators to project revenues and expenditures by changing variables such as tuition, numbers of students, and staffing levels. [1] This interactive tool can be used to:

  • Identify the resources required to implement a program, including personnel, facilities, equipment, and materials, whether they are paid for directly or contributed in-kind, and subsequently to calculate program costs.
  • Explore ways to reduce costs.
  • Identify the effects of different levels of tuition and scholarships.
  • Calculate fundraising needs and demonstrate to potential funders why their help is needed.

Review of Financial Sustainability Plans

We created benchmarks for reviewing the financial sustainability plans submitted by each institution. The four criteria described below are based on the assumption that financial sustainability is a process, not an end. In other words, although the process aimed at achieving financial sustainability may not yet be completed, the financial sustainability plan helps develop a road map so that programs can follow into the future.

Assessment Criterion I: Key Informational Elements

We saw financial sustainability plans as facilitating communications and planning within an institution. For this purpose, we expected each program plan to articulate its rationale – how does the program fit into the vision of the institution in its efforts to support the field of Jewish education? How consistent is the program with the institution’s view of current needs and anticipated future trends? Similarly, we expected each plan to identify how long the program should be continued (we do not assume every program will last forever) and we expected a timeline for anticipated fundraising activities. In our feedback to the grantees, we recommended that each financial sustainability plan includes a detailed budget, budget assumptions, and analysis (e.g., break-even analysis) that spells out the calculations and assumptions on which current decision-making is based.

Assessment Criterion II: Feasibility

It is critical that the financial sustainability plan is feasible. For example, if the break-even analysis identifies a break-even point, but the circumstances under which this will be achieved are unreal, the analysis will not serve its purpose. To make the case for the viability of long-term plans, authors should include as many specifics as possible. Projections of philanthropic contributions should include names of funders, projected amounts, and at the very least, an overview of fundraising plans. Projections of tuition revenue should include enrollment estimates, market demand assumptions, and description of strategies to align tuition discounts with measurable student needs (rather than using blanket across-the-board tuition discounting policies). Finally, plans should include an assessment of organizational capacity (e.g., the availability of qualified staff with relevant expertise), which is key to successful implementation.

Assessment Criterion III: Need

Higher education institutions sometimes choose to run programs at a loss, as a service to the field or as a marquee program that can promote institutional capacity and reputation. But financial sustainability plans highlight the costs of such a strategy, allowing institutional leaders to better judge the level of their investment and the return. To ensure that such decisions are based on valid assumptions and consensus among chief officers in the institutions, effective financial sustainability plans should address the need for the program along multiple dimensions.

Assessment Criterion IV: Commitment

Programs can be sustained over the long-term when institutional leadership (the president, provost, and the dean) are committed to support the program through allocation of funds, sharing of infrastructure, and active participation in targeted fundraising efforts. Additionally, financial sustainability planning benefits from use of proven strategies and processes for ongoing review and revision of the financial sustainability plan.

Supporting the Continuation of Higher Education Programs in Jewish Education

HUC-JIR, JTS, and YU developed financial sustainability plans that took into account multi-year projections of costs and revenues. This involved hard work and time – and many of the questions we asked them to address were new to academic leaders who have not often been held to financial standards. All three grantees of the Education Initiative were torn between offering their very best to the field of Jewish education and making promises they were likely not going to be able to keep within the limitation of financial resources. This is understandable.

But spending money and time to ensure the financial health of programs over the long-term is something that grantees need to do. Crafting implementation plans that can be sustained over the long run is a new and difficult task that grantees must increasingly face – and it is something that the Jim Joseph Foundation is committed to, in order to make sure their philanthropic investments produce long term results.

[1] Contact Yael Kidron at [email protected] for more information about the Break-Even Analysis Calculator

Dr. Mark Schneider is a Vice President and an Institute Fellow at AIR. Dr. Yael Kidron is a Principal Researcher at AIR. Versions of this piece appeared in Philanthropy News Digest and eJewishPhilanthropy.

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Posted on October 13th, 2014

How to Attract, Prepare and Keep Good Day School Teachers

by Sharon Feiman-Nemser

Teacher retention and effectiveness stem from a clear vision of good teaching, strong alignment between coursework and field experiences, a focus on subject matter preparation, and a year-long internship. That view is supported by a new report from the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education and funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, which finds that graduates of the DeLeT (Day School Leadership Through Teaching) Program at Brandeis University and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion feel well prepared for their responsibilities as day school teachers.

The report comes from the Longitudinal Survey of Day School Teachers, which has been tracking the careers of DeLeT alumni since 2007. Previous reports described graduates’ backgrounds and views of day school teaching, the factors influencing their decisions over time to stay in teaching or leave the classroom, and the opportunities and challenges they face in their schools.

Researchers analyzed responses of over 100 DeLeT graduates from the past six years to a survey administered at the end of the program and conducted interviews with program faculty to help explain those responses. In addition to their overall sense of preparedness, a large majority (81%) of DeLeT graduates, mainly elementary teachers of general and/or Jewish studies, felt well or very well prepared to plan lessons, manage classrooms and integrate Jewish values into their teaching.

The features of DeLeT—vision, coursework-fieldwork alignment, subject matter preparation and an internship—are widely reported in the teacher education literature as characteristics of high quality teacher preparation and correlates with teacher retention and effectiveness. While other programs for aspiring Jewish day school teachers have some of these features, only DeLeT offers this combination.

What is the value of such a study and who can benefit from it?

Beyond the specific feedback to DeLeT leaders and funders, the study opens up a discussion about what the preparation of teachers for Jewish day schools should be like. In the past two decades, the question of how to attract, prepare and keep good teachers has prompted fierce debate in public and professional circles. Some believe that the solution lies in recruiting smart college graduates who know their subjects and can figure out how to teach on their own. Others counter that teaching is a complex professional practice which requires rigorous preparation and ongoing support and development. In fact, it’s the combination which seems to make the most difference.

In a recent large study of how various aspects of teacher preparation affect the retention of new teachers, researchers found that pedagogical training (e.g. practice teaching, methods courses, child development) matters most. In fact even Teach for America (TFA), the poster child for recruiting candidates from elite colleges and sending them into classrooms after just five weeks of summer training, is seriously reconsidering its quick preparation/short commitment model. One pilot TFA program offers a year of pre-service training and requires a five-year teaching commitment.

DeLeT attracts talented candidates and provides strong pedagogical training, including a set of general and content-specific methods courses, a course on child development and learning, and a year-long mentored internship. This may well account for the sense of preparedness which graduates across the board feel and for their long-term retention and commitment to day school teaching.

A final contribution of the study turns on its unique combination of program evaluation and applied research. Supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Longitudinal Survey of Day School Teachers combines formative assessment with the generation of usable knowledge for the field. Too often, programs in Jewish education are subjected to brief evaluations whose instruments and findings are rarely made public. This practice works against the building of shared knowledge.

Three additional programs which prepare or support beginning day school teachers—an undergraduate program at Stern College, a graduate program at JTS’s Davidson School and the Jewish New Teacher Project—have administered the DeLeT survey to their graduates. Researchers can now consider how different pathways to day school teaching affect teachers’ perspectives, practice and career commitments while also giving individualized feedback to each program. We address these issues in greater depth, and in multiple settings, in the new volume Inspiring Teaching: Preparing Teachers to Succeed in Mission-Driven Schools.

We encourage others to consider using the surveys and research design to study their programs and graduates. Only through such coordinated inquiries can we get smarter about recruiting, preparing, supporting and retaining good teachers for Jewish day schools.

Sharon Feiman-Nemser is the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professor of Jewish Education at Brandeis University. This blog was posted originally by the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education

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Posted on October 6th, 2014

Kesher Hadash: Bringing it Home

Editor's Note: The Jewish Theological Seminar's Kesher Hadash program is supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation through the Education Initiative--a $45 million grant program to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, The Jewish Theological Seminary, and Yeshiva University. The third year evaluation of the initiative provides details on achievements to date, along with future goals. 

By Hannah Grossman

The recent semester I spent on the Davidson School’s semester program in Israel, Kesher Hadash, was not only one of the most intellectually stimulating experiences of my student career but one of the most impactful on my work as an educator.

Throughout the semester the eight other students and I explored various conflicts affecting Israeli society. While much of our learning occurred in a classroom, we had the privilege of traveling throughout Israel and the contested West Bank to further our learning. Having the opportunity to discuss our experiences at length within our cohort as well as with Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis with whom we took courses personalized the academic experience.

While studying Israeli history and contemporary society were invaluable to me in being an informed Jewish member of the world, they were also essential to me as a teacher. With every experience on Kesher Hadash we considered how or if it would inform the curriculum we were each writing for respective North American Jewish educational settings.

As I began to write my curriculum I considered in which setting I would most like to implement my work; I soon decided to reach out to Young Judaea Camp Tel Yehudah, a camp which I had attended as a camper and staff member for many years. It was in this camp that I developed profound interest in and care for Israel and social justice and thus felt it was an appropriate place to introduce my curriculum.

Believing that it is essential for Israel education to develop in ways that address the changing nature of Israel and Zionism, I eagerly approached the summer hoping that I would be able to do just that. Within the safe, supportive and passionate framework of Young Judaea I worked with other staff members to introduce challenging questions relating to Israel within a Zionist context.

My curriculum relates to the question of how/if Israel can remain Jewish while embodying the Jewish value of loving the stranger [ahavat hager (ger in the biblical definition)]. In grappling with this question chanichim were introduced to several big ideas: That the ger in Jewish tradition provides a useful lens for examining Israel’s multicultural struggles, that Jewish values are a key component in what makes Israel a Jewish state and that when transformed from theory to practice, values offer interesting questions about their implications for society.

In order to address these questions, chanichim partook in two days of activities that somewhat imitated challenges of the early building of Israel.

After analyzing various texts relating to ahavat hager and experientially learning about various Jewish ethnic groups (edot), chanichim were tasked with designing a society that would be welcoming of all Jews. As chanichim used knowledge they gained about the edot in debating the structure and function of a community center, an education system as well as the design of the society’s symbols it was evident that they realized the difficulties in creating one home for all Jews. In the midst of their debate, three different Arab narratives (based off of individuals I met in Kesher Hadash courses) were introduced and the definition of ger was expanded. Being asked how the society could maintain its Jewishness while welcoming non-Jews engaged chanichim in a plethora of demanding questions faced in Israel today. I hope that in giving chanichim opportunities to be invested in critical conversations about current challenges in Israel from a place of care will keep the next generation positively engaged in Zionism.

Further opportunities I had to execute components of my Kesher Hadash curriculum included turning a film I made during the semester with a classmate into a trigger for conversations on the dialogical relationship between American and Israeli Jews (a relationship in which both sides give and take teachings from each other). The film highlights how an Israeli Jew’s experience in a North American Jewish summer camp provided him with ways of viewing and practicing Judaism which he had not seen in Israel. Watching chanichim realize the effect their own Jewish lives may have on Israelis in the camp and listening to conversations between them brought the film to life. The dialogical relationship is key to the future of Judaism in both America and Israel and witnessing it take place in camp was remarkable.

I am thankful for the multiple opportunities I had this summer to bring products of my learning to life. Seeing chanichim actively engaged in American Judaism and Zionism proves to me that Kesher Hadash was an invaluable experience for the future.

Finally, I owe an enormous thanks to the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Davidson School at the Jewish Theological Seminary for bringing Kesher Hadash into the world of Israel education.

Hannah Grossman is currently studying towards her MA in Jewish education and spent spring 2014 in Israel on Kesher Hadash. Prior to that, Hannah spent a year studying at the Center for Jewish Educators at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. Hannah is from West Orange, New Jersey.

This piece originally appeared in eJewishPhilanthropy.

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Posted on September 22nd, 2014

10 Ways to Engage Young Adults this High Holiday Season

Editor's Note: NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation's 2014 High Holidays Initiative includes an online interactive map of High Holiday services and events across the country.

by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, Mechon Hadar and Rabbi Ari Weiss, NEXT

For many, the High Holidays represent a fresh start. With all of our community’s services, celebrations, learning retreats and dinners happening over the next few weeks, this season is an ideal opportunity to involve young adults in meaningful Jewish experiences, and to lay the foundation for their year-round engagement in Jewish life.

This year, thousands of Taglit-Birthright Israel alumni and young adults from across the country will access your holiday events on NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation’s interactive map, and we want to help you make the most of them.

Here are some tips, ideas, and best practices to deepen young adults’ High Holiday experiences:

1. Design your “first impression”

You only have one chance to make a first impression on many of the young adults who will be walking into your community for the first time. What are they seeing as they walk in – will they feel welcomed, or like an outsider? Who are they talking to first, and who is directing them?

Birthrighters tell us that meeting a “friendly face” when they arrive at an event can make or break the experience. Also make sure to check-in with them after the event; framing the experience can be the difference between discovering meaning and a mere shrug of the shoulders.

2. Create reflective programming

The High Holidays present unique opportunities for personal reflection. Following Kol Nidre and leading up to Neilah are intuitive times to engage young adults in small-group reflection, and can add the type of depth that instills this time of year with kavanah (intentionality) and rejuvenation.

3. Create opportunities to study in shul

During the holidays, our communities are just as much houses of learning as they are houses of prayer. While meaningfully engaging with prayer is fulfilling, many find other ways to engage with the questions with which we are challenged to think about during the High Holidays. Offer study options like hevruta-style discussion (in pairs) or self-directed learning, and provide text sources that speak to your community’s values and personality.

4. Develop participatory experiences

There are many ways to make a High Holiday experience more participatory. Everything is an opportunity, from the prayer leader’s choice in melodies to create an atmosphere or mood, to the way chairs are set up, to one’s placement in the room and/or choice to move around.

Introducing activities like a shofar-blowing contest, a cooking lesson, or storytelling can all bring a service to life and add meaning, depth and focus to the prayers themselves.

5. Weigh explanations vs. experience

Explaining an event or service’s components throughout and establishing a rhythm is a delicate balancing act. The leader must consider his or her audience’s knowledge base, and one’s own ability to juggle the needs of the collective with the needs of individuals at the event. Also, consider the way you begin the event; it will set the tone and the audience’s expectations.

6. Use the break-fast as an opportunity

The break-fast is a great way to build community among your young adult audience, as well as relationships between them. The break-fast is both a culmination of an intense and immersive personal and collective experience. That shared moment of ending a fast together creates a sense of “we did it!” and thus a foundation to build strong relationships between the young adults in attendance. Who hosts the break-fast? Where it is held, and what food will be served? Keeping young adults in mind when answering these questions will enable you to make the most of this opportunity.

7. Emphasize comfort and meaning around attire

Many young adults have a childhood memory of fitting themselves into their uncomfortable, dressy synagogue outfits. A great way to help young adults shake the memory of what they did not like about attending High Holiday services as children is to let them know that they should wear what makes them comfortable, and to educate them about your community’s typical customs for High Holiday dress.

8. Showcase young leadership

The best way to introduce your community to young adults is to showcase young leaders who are enthusiastic and committed to your community. These young leaders can then initiate the relationship-building process with newcomers in an authentic, peer-to-peer manner.

9. Offer preparation workshops in advance

Empower young adults to experience the depth and power of the High Holidays by offering to teach melodies, discuss the meaning of the prayers, or study some texts. When the holidays arrive, they can devote their thoughts to the essence of the experience and enjoy it in full.

10. Keep it going, and follow up

Just as some learning before the High Holidays can tremendously elevate the experience, following up on it can bridge that meaning beyond the 10 Days of Awe. Scheduling coffee dates and finding time for follow-up conversations and activities in the weeks after the High Holidays (particularly around Sukkot) can help transition a one-time experience into ongoing engagement.

Got questions? Want to share some tips of your own? Feel free to email [email protected]

Wishing you a shana tova u’metuka, a year of happiness, fulfillment, and peace.

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer is the co-founder and executive director of Mechon Hadar.
Rabbi Ari Weiss is the senior director of Jewish education for NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation, helps turn ten day trips to Israel into lifelong Jewish journeys.

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Posted on September 4th, 2014

What does Israel Education look like NOW?

by Dan Finkel

Jewish educational networks buzzed all summer with questions about how to handle returning to school in the wake of the conflict in Israel and Gaza this past summer. Educators are still looking for ways to process their own (often conflicted) thoughts and emotions, and continue to discuss what approach to take in handling these complex current events in school settings. I am no different - I spent the summer worrying about family, friends, and colleagues in Israel, sickened by violence, dismayed by the persistence of what feels like a hopeless cycle, and shocked by suddenly open displays of anti-Arab racism in Israel and anti-Semitism all over the world. I was also overwhelmed by the thought of helping faculty members, parents, and students learn something from these events once school started. Yet, when I began reaching out to colleagues, many educational strategies began to crystallize. Last week, I entered the school year with great clarity of purpose. Here is some of what we are doing at the Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City, CA to help students process this summer’s events.

School Position & Guidelines

When we ask our teachers to enter the classroom, we ask them to check most of their own emotional baggage at the door, so that they can support and care for their students. This means that the classroom is not a place for them to put forth their own personal political views. So how are they supposed to talk about Israel? We have a few guidelines for teachers for this specific situation, as well as an official school position (below) on the current conflict. The guidelines below provide a strong framework in which substantive discussions and learning occur:

    1. Ensure that students feel safe - ask questions to check for understanding and misunderstandings; respond to questions with the facts as you know them. We are using the resources curated by JewishLearningWorks for background information when we are not sure of the facts ourselves. Reassure students that they are safe. Allow and create space for students to express thoughts, feelings, concerns, and questions.
    2. Community schools value diversity - we don’t need a class consensus, but rather we need to listen to one another, to validate points of view that differ from our own, and to learn from encountering opinions that challenge us.
    3. Students of certain ages are critical thinkers - 5th-8th grade students should be encouraged to bring their training in critical thinking to bear on these events. They should read about events from multiple sources and perspectives, and think about the information they can glean from the similarities and differences they observe. They should be challenged to think about the complex dilemmas that comprise relations between Israel and her neighbors, and to imagine what outcomes might be reached from various approaches to solving these problems.
    4. Building a personal relationship with Israel is important - Every single person in our community should continue to build their own individual relationship with Israel. This doesn’t look the same for everyone, but the overall concept is to create opportunities for various kinds of meaningful Israel engagement—be it through Hebrew language, arts and culture experiences, science class, or other settings. We will continue to build on our existing Israel curriculum (which is well-developed for the whole school thanks largely to BASIS-the Israel Education Day School project led by Jewish LearningWorks) to connect with our sister school in Haifa, and to bring the vibrant culture of modern Israel and Israelis into the lives of our students and their families.

These guidelines align with our school position on the conflict:

  1. We mourn the loss of any human life, as all humans are created B’tzelem Elohim (in G-d’s image).
  2. We support the right of Israel to protect her borders and her citizens from harm, as our Jewish community is intertwined with all other Jewish communities - Kol Yisrael Arevim ZeLaZeh.
  3. We pray for real, lasting, authentic peace between Israel and her neighbors.

Specific Learning Opportunities

While engaging students in such a serious and complex subject may seem daunting, it presents a rich opportunity. Students can reflect about what they have seen or heard about Israel this summer, and can have a truly meaningful educational experience. Our faculty pre-planning this year included a facilitated conversation about creating the best environment for this to occur, using guidelines created by Encounter. It was an opportunity to share thoughts and concerns, and to process our own emotions. We also discussed specific ways in which the school would handle teaching about Israel and Gaza. We decided that:

  • We will create programs for our students in grades 3-5 and 6-8, respectively, to address the situation in gatherings together, in order to include a broader array of perspectives in the conversation. For our younger students (TK-2nd), we will use individual classrooms (rather than larger gatherings) as the primary forum for discussion. In all settings, we will use the guidelines and school position outlined above to frame the learning.
  • We will informally survey parents to determine if there is interest in holding a parent meeting on the situation in Israel and Gaza. This possibly would be co-lead in conjunction with local rabbis and synagogue communities, and parents would help to determine the framework and goal of this type of forum.
  • We will reach out to the local Muslim and interfaith communities to explore possibilities for our students to engage directly in dialogue or community service together.

Not surprisingly, anticipating the school year was far more fraught than the start of the year itself, and of course it helps that a stable ceasefire appears to exist. Many Jews outside of Israel, at a time like this, ask what they can do. As Jewish educators, we are in the enviable position of answering that question by just doing our jobs. Though achieving peace between Israel and her neighbors seems increasingly complex, by providing the next generation of Jewish Americans with space to reflect, to learn, and to discuss, we can help build deep and long-lasting connections to Israel.

Dan Finkel is the Judaic Studies Principal at the Ronald C Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City, CA, one of eleven Bay Area schools that participated in BASIS – the Israel Education Day School project – an initiative led by Jewish LearningWorks designed to integrate Israel Education across a school’s curriculum.


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