Israel Education in North America: A Landscape Analysis of the Field

This report summarizes the status of Israel education in North America in 2023. It is based on information gathered during website reviews, interviews with 43 key Israel education leaders and staff, and selected reviews of research studies. Data gathering occurred primarily before the events in Israel that occurred on October 7, 2023: priorities for Israel education may have shifted after this event as did thought leaders’ visions for the future. The data gathered for this report show the following:

Israel education in North America is thriving. There is a growing number of organizations provide Israel education and an increased amount and quality of the materials and professional development available to educators. There is strong evidence of Israel education being incorporated into preschools, K-12 settings, colleges/universities, summer camps, synagogues, and other settings that serve Jewish people. Many settings have a dedicated Israel education professional that provides Israel education or supports educators in their integration of Israel education into their teaching and learning approaches.

Israel education is increasingly being viewed as a vital part of any Jewish education endeavor. There is a growing belief that connection to Israel is a critical part of Jewish identity/identities formation and that all Jews should be exposed to Israel education activities.

Israel education is being professionalized.
Over the past 5-10 years, the field has developed certifications, Master classes, Master’s degrees, and advanced learning opportunities and has increasing numbers of participating educators and students.

Israel education has increasingly featured high quality educational experiences for its participants.
Several leading Israel education organizations provide opportunities for deep learning, immersion, active engagement, and multiple learning styles. Evidence shows that these pedagogies produce greater retention of knowledge and skills, confidence in teaching, and adoption of strategies in educational settings. Israel education is becoming more learner centered and more often recognizes the complexity of Israel as a country and people.

Israel educators agree that Israel education is integral to Jewish education. They also agree on many aspects of Israel education that should be included in any approach being implemented. However, they disagree on many aspects of Israel education, including the ways to address complexity, and other field-building aspects, such as the need for standards, multiple narratives, and collaboration.

Israel education is being offered as a key component of most Israel travel experiences for all ages. There is evidence that nearly all Israel travel experiences increasingly include meaningful and engaging programming to promote a sense of belonging to Israel and to see the connection to Israel as part of one’s Jewish identity. The number of the travel experience organizations has grown and has attracted a more diverse set of travelers. Participation is strongest among Jewish teens and young adults.

Israel education is integrated with most advocacy organizations. Most have some components of Israel education, enlightening others about history, culture, and need for preserving Israel as a homeland.

Israel Education in North America: A Landscape Analysis of the Field, Shelley H. Billig, Ph.D, January 2024

View the additional Field Analysis here.

Aliza Goodman of The iCenter provides additional analysis

U.S. College Students and the War in Israel: Jewish Engagement and Social Tension on Campus

New research conducted by Dr. Eitan Hersh provides key insights on the impact of October 7th and subsequent rise in antisemitism on Jewish college students on campus. In particular, the research examines whether and how Jewish college students are experiencing changes in Jewish identity and participation, and increased social tension, on campus. Students also answered survey questions regarding their changing views about Israel and the extent to which their own mental health has been affected in recent months.

This research is unique in that it includes survey responses from Jewish college students who also participated in a study conducted by Dr. Hersh in 2022. As Dr. Hersh notes, “The panel of students surveyed both years provides a link between pre-October 7 Jewish life on campus and post-October 7 Jewish life on campus. If we observe attitudinal changes in the panel, we know it’s not because of sampling variation but because students felt differently in 2023 than 2022.”

These new findings represent a mid-point in the research. A series of focus groups will be conducted in the spring, as well as another survey. Both of these data collection efforts will allow for continued examination of change over time. A full report will be available in summer 2024.

Dr. Hersh shares interim findings from the research in the three-part essay series below:

About the Researcher:
Eitan Hersh is a professor of political science at Tufts University. His research focuses on US elections and civic participation. Hersh is the author of Politics is for Power (Scribner, 2020), Hacking the Electorate (Cambridge UP 2015), as well as many scholarly articles. Hersh earned his PhD from Harvard in 2011 and served as assistant professor of political science at Yale University from 2011-2017. His public writings have appeared in venues such as the New York Times, USA Today, The Atlantic, POLITICO, and the Boston Globe. Hersh regularly testifies in voting rights court cases and has testified to the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary about the role of data analytics in political campaigns. In addition to work on elections and civic engagement, Hersh has written on topics ranging from antisemitism and the political consequences of terrorist attacks to politicization in health care delivery and the opioid crisis. His next book is about the civic role of business leaders.

Brief Study Background:
The study was funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation. The survey itself was administered by College Pulse, a survey and analytics firm specializing in the college student population. Dr. Hersh, who has conducted a number of studies on civic engagement, young adults, and antisemitism, worked with the Foundation and College Pulse to organize this research project and analyze the results.

To receive the full data set of the study when it’s available, please email [email protected] with “data set request” as the subject line.

Media Coverage

 

Responding to this Historical Moment: Jewish Educators, Clergy, Engagement Professionals, and the War in Israel

This report delves into the experiences of Jewish professionals in the wake of October 7th, highlighting their feelings of isolation and confusion. Faced with events of historical magnitude, there is across the board recognition of the need to respond, coupled with uncertainty about the best course of action. Post-October 7th, during the survey period, these professionals were seeking clarity, facts, safety, and hope, while grappling with fundamental questions about the unfolding events and their implications.

The report underscores the inherent difficulties in facilitating conversations about challenging issues; including, but not limited to, those related to Israel. These challenges existed prior to October 7th and in the immediate aftermath were on full display. Issues fundamental to living life in contemporary society at this particular moment in time were raised. For example, in the age of social media as a primary source of information, “what should we believe?” The jarring experience of feeling oneself as part of a persecuted minority, “why do they hate us?”

These experiences and questions lead to a desire to speak and process. Some of the survey respondents provide purposeful responses to the war, which demonstrate how these large existential issues can integrate into a Jewish professional’s repertoire in a manner that overrides narrow disciplinary or context-specific approaches to Jewish education and community. The focus is on responding to this moment and
seeing one’s membership in the Jewish People as an asset for tackling life’s big issues.

In the past decade, various initiatives have emerged, focusing on enhancing the communication ability of Jewish professionals, particularly around contentious issues. These initiatives represent a shift towards acknowledging the importance of talking about and addressing challenging topics as essential components of a vibrant Jewish community. They aim to foster environments where individuals can engage in meaningful conversations about personal and collective issues, thus strengthening community bonds.

The report draws on the answers to the survey questions to propose a framework for purposeful communication to help Jewish professionals navigate the dynamic and changing post-October 7th landscape. This framework emphasizes the importance of identifying one’s professional narrative; including, specifying the big questions posed by learners, educational and institutional considerations, and dilemmas in order to craft an appropriate educational strategy. Ideally this process occurs through discussion with colleagues.

Responding to this Historical Moment: Jewish Educators, Clergy, Engagement Professionals, and the War in Israel,” Ezra Kopelowitz, Ph.D., Hadar Franco Gilron, Ph.D., Jake Gillis, M.ED, Research Success Technologies LTD. & The Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education, February 2024

Read more insights from this research in this piece in eJewish Philanthropy.

Trends Report: State of Jewish Camp 2023

Jewish camp has maintained the gains of last summer and the field has settled into a new normal within our post-pandemic world. In summer 2023, the field served +3% (6,000) more campers and counselors than in summer 2022. Part of this new reality includes hiring more staff, since fewer are working the full summer. Camps are having to raise more money to keep up with rising costs and the increased demand for camper financial aid.

While Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) hopes this report aids camps in planning ahead for summer 2024, the organization acknowledges that this data was collected before the events in Israel on October 7th. Since the initial Camp Census data was reported, FJC has reassessed the needs of Jewish camps in the shadow of this war. It has identified several areas of impact and created initiatives to support the field in addressing new challenges in the areas of wellness, security, staffing, and Israel education.

You can see a snapshot of FJC’s research on camps’ needs related to Israel here. Let us celebrate the resiliency and innovation of the field of Jewish camp as they continue to sustain and nurture multi-generational, joyful Jewish communities.

Trends Report: State of Jewish Camp 2023, Foundation for Jewish Camp, January 2024

Enrollment Trend Report: The Impact of the Israel-Hamas War on Jewish Day School Enrollment in North America

In the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, the landscape of Jewish day schools and yeshivas in North America has experienced significant shifts. This second Enrollment Trend Report delves into the influx of temporary Israeli students and an emerging trend of interest from public and independent school students for mid-year transfer to Jewish day schools during this time.

Covering the period from the start of the war in October, 2023 to December 8th, 2023, this report presents a snapshot of the responses from enrollment professionals and heads of school from 110 schools in the United States and Canada. Data collection was open for two weeks from November 27th, 2023 through December 8th, 2023. While the sample is not fully representative of the field of Jewish day schools and yeshivas, it clearly depicts that the trends reported herein are happening amongst one-third of the Prizmah network of schools.

The report highlights a significant increase in inquiries and temporary enrollments1 from Israeli students and transfer students from public and independent schools into Jewish day schools and yeshivas in North America following the Israel-Hamas war.

The surge in inquiries from Israeli students has prompted Jewish day schools and yeshivas to swiftly address the evolving needs of these students and their families. The collective resilience of the schools, combined with the collaborative efforts of local Jewish organizations, illustrates a community-driven approach in delivering comprehensive support for the incoming students.

Enrollment Trend Report: The Impact of the Israel-Hamas War on Jewish Day School Enrollment in North America,” Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, January 2024

Enrollment Trend Report: Israeli Transfers to Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivas During the War in Israel

This is a trend report of a Pulse Survey Prizmah distributed to enrollment professionals and heads of school, representing a snapshot in time of the week of October 20-27, 2023. The report includes both the enrollment data and the essential support that schools urgently require at this time.

The findings of the survey shed light on the profound impact of the ongoing war in Israel on Jewish day schools and yeshivas in North America. The influx of inquiries from Israeli students has prompted Jewish day schools and yeshivas to adapt swiftly and effectively to meet the emerging needs of the students and their families. The collective resilience demonstrated by the schools, coupled with their collaborative efforts with local Jewish organizations, reflects a community-driven approach to providing comprehensive support for the incoming students.

However, the identified resource gaps, including critical supplies and specialized staff requirements, highlight the pressing need for immediate collective action and support from the broader Jewish community. By addressing these challenges collaboratively, Jewish day schools and yeshivas can continue to foster inclusive and nurturing environments, ensuring the holistic wellbeing and academic success of all students during this critical period. The landscape continues to change rapidly and may be significantly different within a few weeks time. Prizmah will continue to monitor and share findings to assess and support the needs of the field.

Enrollment Trend Report: Israeli Transfers to Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivas During the War in Israel,” Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, November 2023

Build Grant Evaluation Summary

The Jim Joseph Foundation is committed to fostering compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences for young Jews, their families, and their friends. To enhance this work, the Foundation developed Build Grants to invest in the capacity of Jewish education organizations to dramatically scale their programming to reach larger and more diverse audiences.

The Foundation’s Build Grants include two targeted capacity building strategies. The first, Capacity Build Grants, provides short-term resources to stand-out Jewish organizations for specific interventions that enhance their ability to grow over time. Organizations use these resources for business and strategic planning, infrastructure and operational support, or measurement and program evaluation. The Capacity Build Grants that the Foundation offers are a steppingstone to the second area of support, the Scaling Build Grants. Scaling Build Grants are focused explicitly on organizational growth, providing larger one-time, multiyear investments meant to expand the organization’s reach, increase their effectiveness, and strengthen their ability to generate revenue and sustain an expanded budget. The Foundation is interested in deepening its understanding of its Build grantees’ successes and challenges to further iterate on the Build Grants structure and strategies. To glean insights, the subsequent questions guided the evaluation:

● What was the grantee experience?
● What were some of the key impacts of the Foundation’s Build Grants?
● What were some of the core challenges of the Foundation’s Build Grants?
● What lesson can we learn to improve the grantee experience and grant impact?

The evaluation outlines major themes on the structure, impacts, and challenges of Build Grants to date.

Build Grant Evaluation Summary, Third Plateau, June 30, 2023

 

Beyond A Jewish Library: Findings From A 2023 Survey of Users in North America

Launched in 2013, Sefaria is a free, living library of Jewish texts and their interconnections, in Hebrew and in translation and a global leader in enabling Jewish learning and teaching in an open and participatory way. In 2022, Sefaria reached a total of five million users, with a monthly average of 598,000 users. Half (51%) of these users are in the United States (48%) and Canada (3%), and this report focuses on this North American subset of Sefaria’s users.

In 2022, Sefaria completed a five-year strategic plan which set forth ambitious goals of further expanding its reach, including “develop[ing] a universally accessible digital library experience [and] power[ing] new pathways to digital Torah beyond the library.” As it sets forth toward these goals, Sefaria has partnered with Rosov Consulting to conduct a survey of its users in order to better understand:

1. Who are Sefaria’s users in 2023? Where do they live? How do they identify? How proficient are Sefaria’s users in Jewish text study, and how many of them are relative newcomers to Jewish text study?

In addition to the evident benefit of easier access to Jewish texts online, what other benefits do users derive from engaging with the Sefaria content, especially when it comes to their comfort and confidence participating in Jewish life more broadly?

2. What attributes (of the users and of their experience with Sefaria) may contribute to or correlate with
these outcomes?

This report relays the findings from a 2023 survey of Sefaria users and offers some suggestions as to how these findings could inform ways in which Sefaria could proceed toward its ambitious strategic plan.

The report begins with a broad overview of all Sefaria’s users in North America (United States and Canada) and their demographic profile; it then narrows down on a large subset of the users and describes Sefaria’s impact on a user subset of particular interest: young North American users (ages 18-44) excluding Jewish educators.

Beyond A Jewish Library: Findings From A 2023 Survey of Users in North America, August 2023, Rosov Consulting

 

One2One: Online Encounters Between Jewish Teens Around the World

Started in 2021, in the midst of the global pandemic, ENTER: The Jewish Peoplehood Alliance (ENTER) launched One2One, an online mifgash (educational encounter) between Jewish high school aged teens who live in Israel and North America. To date 7,200 teens have participated in an online mifgash, which involves two teens, meeting once a week, over five weeks for at least 30 minutes each meeting.

This report focuses on One2One’s development of “the online mifgash” since its inception in 2021, the contribution to the field of Israel education, to One2One’s strategic partners and the participating teens.

The Virtual Mifgash
“The Mifgash” is an educational methodology developed in the 1980s by travel programs bringing Diaspora Jewish teens to Israel. The Mifgash has since taken root as a basic component in many of the educational venues involving Diaspora Jews traveling to Israel, and Israelis traveling abroad, including programs aimed at adults.

One2One’s innovation is the development of an online mifgash. The in-person mifgash requires travel, which is costly and involves high levels of organizational and communal investment. The goal of the online mifgash is to enable the beneficial outcomes associated with in-person mifgashim, without requiring international travel. Until One2One there was no systematic development of the online mifgash in a manner that can reach large numbers of participants.

The report shows how One2One utilizes three elements to enable online mifgashim, 1) technology to enable the online meetings; 2) organizational partnerships which are essential for recruiting the participating teens and enabling the online mifgashim to contribute to broader educational processes; and 3) appropriate educational design.

One2One: Online Encounters Between Jewish Teens Around the World, Ezra Kopelowitz Ph.D., Research Success Technologies, Ltd., July 23, 2023

Learn more about the program’s impact and its contribution to the broader fields of Israel and Jewish education in this essay in the Peoplehood Papers by Yael Rosen, One2One Program Director, and Dr. Scott Lasensky, One2One Senior Advisor

 

Cohort-Based Experiences Initiative: Phase II – Emerging Outcomes & Implementation-focused Reflections

Launched in early 2022, the Cohort-Based Experiences (CBE) Initiative – spearheaded by the Jim Joseph Foundation in collaboration with Maven Leadership Consulting – was developed based on the belief that cohort participation can lead to learning, connection, and enrichment that can ultimately contribute to employee retention within the Jewish communal sector. The Initiative was designed to: 1) unlock the power of cohort experiences; 2) understand the factors contributing to their success; and 3) explore ways to democratize and expand access to cohort experiences within the Jewish communal ecosystem.

The planning and implementation of the first phase of the Initiative (January 2022-July 2022), was documented by Meredith Woocher, PhD on behalf of Rosov Consulting. Documentation of the Aleph Cohorts demonstrated “the importance of momentum, trust, and reputation for cohorts to succeed.” Conversely, Woocher also observed that uncertainty about the future of the cohorts disrupted the momentum of trust and relationship building that contributes to the impact of the experience.

More than 120 Jewish professionals participated in 12 cohorts during the second phase of the initiative, which took place between October 2022 and May 2023. Based on lessons learned, the CBE team made several programmatic adjustments. A new model of recruitment was explored, which relied on crowdsourcing and self-identification. In addition, external facilitators were trained to lead the Bet Cohorts. The CBE team continued to support Aleph Cohorts’ professional development. Two Gimel Cohorts were also supported.

Cohort-Based Experiences Initiative: Phase II – A project of Maven Leadership Consulting in collaboration with the Jim Joseph Foundation, by Tobin Belzer, PhD, June 16, 2023

 

Getting There: Challenges, Opportunities, and Outcomes – RootOne 2022 Evaluation Report

RootOne was launched in 2020 with the goal of maximizing the number of Jewish teens who participate in an Israel experience and maximizing the impact of those experiences. In its first two years, RootOne has approached these goals by means of three primary strategies: providing eligible teens with vouchers that make programs financially more accessible and incentivize participation; building up a continuum of newly-created educational and social experiences before and after the program in Israel; and investing in the professional development of the educators who staff the programs.

Since its inception, RootOne has committed itself to developing a robust program of research and evaluation. For 2022, the scope of this endeavor has included: surveys of participants shortly before and after their time in Israel, as well as a year after their return home; a post-trip survey of trip leaders; real-time observation of Early Experiences (pre-trip programming) and on-the-ground, in-person observations during participants’ time in Israel; observations of staff training; content analysis of program itineraries; and interviews with program staff and organizers, North American participants and their parents, and some of the Israeli teens who joined programs. These efforts have been designed not only to document the immediate and longer-term outcomes produced by programs, but to identify what impedes or enhances those outcomes, with the goal of enabling the RootOne team to continually improve its efforts.

This report synthesizes the data collected during the 2022 calendar year. It provides a sense of who the teens are that RootOne currently reaches. It describes how recent changes in the social-emotional needs of teens both challenge and provide opportunities for RootOne and their partners. This document unpacks the narratives conveyed about Israel by immersive summer experiences, and some of the logistical and educational logjams associated with those narratives. And, against this backdrop—one that depicts the challenges RootOne seeks to overcome—it charts the positive Jewish, Israel-related, and personal outcomes being created by programs supported by RootOne. The report concludes by discussing the implications of these findings for those partnering and planning to partner with RootOne as RootOne seeks to turn its aspirations into reality.

Simon Amiel, Executive Director of RootOne, adds, “By design, this report leads with lessons learned rather than with accomplishments because if we’re going to be a leading organization, we must first be a learning organization. The insights in this report help us chart our path forward as we engage a more diverse population of Jewish teens to connect meaningfully with Israel and their own Jewish identity.”

Getting There: Challenges, Opportunities, and Outcomes – RootOne 2022 Evaluation Report,” Rosov Consulting, April 2023

 

Atra’s Rabbi Experience Research

This research, the first of its kind in a generation, explores the impact of rabbis on Jewish young adults (ages 18 44) in the United States. This study examines their experiences with rabbis and how those experiences have influenced their connections to Judaism and Jewish communities, shaped their perceptions of rabbis, and their ideas of what a rabbi should be.

Atra conducts research regularly to better understand what the Jewish community needs from its rabbis and in turn, what leadership models and tools will help these leaders be most successful. This research informs the organization’s approach to continuing education to support rabbis as well as advance the field of Jewish spiritual leadership. In an effort to build the field of applied rabbinic training, Atra set out to create a baseline understanding of how young American Jews experience rabbis and what they want in a rabbi. The goals of this inaugural study were to:

  1. Develop a comprehensive picture of what “rabbi” means to American Jews aged 18 44
  2. Explore young Jews’ experiences and interactions with rabbis (past and present)
  3. Learn about what young Jews want from a rabbi going forward

The Rabbi Effect: The Perception and Impact of Rabbis Among American Jews 18-44Executive Summary, Benenson Strategy Group, March 2023

Rabbi Experience Research, Full Report, Benenson Strategy Groups, March 2023