Learning with Hillel: A Series on Insights from Leaders in the Field

As a Foundation that wants to always learn—one of our internal values is Hitlamdoot—we need to hear directly from leaders and practitioners in the field. Particularly at this moment, understanding what these individuals are experiencing, thinking, doing, and planning is integral to building our team’s knowledge base about the many subfields that makeup the broader world of Jewish education and engagement.

In this vein, representatives from different grantee-partners are speaking with the Foundation each month in Learning Sessions. While initially we planned for these sessions to be entirely internal, the insights and perspectives we are hearing from grantee-partners will be interesting and informative for others as well. We continue to approach our work with Kavanah, intention, to always elevate the efforts of others who help us pursue our mission. And we look forward to sharing brief recaps of each Learning Session. Read previous recaps on learning sessions with Daniel Septimus, CEO of Sefaria, Deborah Meyer, founder and CEO, and Rabbi Tamara Cohen, VP of Program Strategy, Moving Traditions, and Sarah Levin, CEO of JIMENA.

Learning Session Guest: Rabbi Benjamin Berger, Vice President of Jewish Education, Hillel International

Although most are familiar with Hillel’s mission and history, Ben explained that it is important to understand that Hillel’s comprehensive development platform is modeled after programs in private industry. These programs aim to enrich every one of Hillel’s 1,200 professionals through best-in-class professional development and education. Hillel U offers a blend of in-person and online education courses through its four centers of learning, one of which is the Center For Jewish and Israel Education (CJIE), which Ben oversees.

Despite the challenges of the COVID pandemic, Hillel engaged over 140,000 students with over 50,000 immersive activities. Local Hillels hosted more than 20,000 virtual programs.

Ben’s journey to his role today took many twists and turns, but truly started when he returned to UC Santa Cruz as an undergraduate after a year in Israel. At that time, the beginning of the second intifada deeply impacted him and his perspective of campus engagement. One clear realization for him was the passion he held for Jewish leadership, not necessarily solely Israel advocacy. “I began to understand my desire to inspire Jews and others to create a better world,” Ben adds.

When Hillel approached him about serving in his current role—following six years working at The Wexner Foundation—it felt like coming back home. He served previously as the Senior Jewish Educator at The Ohio State University Hillel. Ben’s core passion is helping college students find connection, meaning, and purpose, so returning to Hillel felt natural to him.

Hillel’s Evolution to Invest Deeply in Talent

Bringing Ben on board was part of Hillel’s major decision to invest in talent through the development of Hillel U, which now includes four pods. The first pod was CJIE, raising the level of talent for professionals and giving Ben room to craft the vision for the program.

Previously, Hillel looked externally to train educators. Through Hillel U, Hillel began to build out, design, and run its own programs to train people. With two Masterclass offerings, “Israel” and “Torah”—with more in development—Ben leads programs around core pedagogy of the essential skills of a Hillel educator:

  • Authentic use of self – how an educator uses themselves in the space while also allowing space for the learner.
  • Artful facilitation – how to make the space lively with a deep use of essential and beautiful questions; and the curation of educational space that creates physical and emotional space where people want to learn and feel embraced by more than just  experience and content.
  • Relational engagement – making people feel connected so they want to come back.

Hillel teaches their educators so they can excel in each of these areas today. “Our mentality is that if you’re not an educator now, you’re an aspiring educator,” Ben adds. Other ideas for future Masterclass offerings across Hillel U include:

  • Ritual – how to help campuses more fully develop ritual and spiritual life.
  • Justice – how to integrate engagement around social justice into more campus experiences.
  • Civil Discourse – a partnership with Pardes to bring and extend their “Machloket Matters” curriculum to be integrated with Hillel’s Masterclass skills and content knowledge orientation.
  • Wellness – to address the staggering mental health needs of students. Hillel educators would be trained on how to help students and where to refer those who need additional support. Ben notes, “In many ways, our communities have been distracted by the smoke of the Israel situation; the real fire on campus is related to mental health needs on campus.”

Advocacy and Engagement: Two Different Experiences

Over the last 20 years, Hillel has undergone a major shift in how it views its role in students’ lives. When the second intifada occurred, the Jewish organizational world reacted as though it was dealing with a marketing problem that could be addressed with well-designed posters and books of myths and facts. Over time Hillel has come to understand that is the wrong approach—and there was not a need to fight every battle on every campus, despite the unfortunate necessity of having to engage in some of those battles more than they wish. Hillel understands that a multi-faceted approach including supporting campuses to defend against antisemitic and anti-Zionist action on campus might be necessary, but that alone is not enough for meaningful engagement. Rather, Hillel’s deep commitment to be an educational organization means that it has to lead with a proactive, values, and questions-centered approach, which has been at the core of its Masterclass:Israel work. Ben explains this is a much different approach than prioritizing advocacy:

While advocacy has a clear outcome, education doesn’t always have a specific outcome. It’s about opening students’ minds and supporting them through a journey of learning. To get there, Hillel professionals have to be well trained, confident, and knowledgeable.

In many ways, Ben adds, the COVID-19 pandemic brought out the best of Hillel and the team. Now he sees Hillel doing more to support campuses and students. The immediate needs pushed the Hillel team to be creative, to listen, and to respond rapidly to build out ideas—and to raise the dollars to do so.

Programs such as Winterfest, for example, came out of these efforts, after students reported staggering rates of loneliness and isolation.  Winterfest was put together in a matter of weeks (Ben wrote about Hillel’s approach here), and included almost 1,500 students, 263 campus in 9 countries. The agility of the team during the time of disconnection was inspiring. That approach to programming and experimentation will inform Hillel activities long after the pandemic wanes.

Hillel’s partnership with Reboot to create the Higher Holidays is another example of creativity and agility in a time of uncertainty and campus need. With nearly 30 hours of streaming High Holiday content, Ben led an effort to bring a beautifully produced, engaging and meaningful experience that reached 16,000 participants. The quick support of the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund enabled both Higher Holidays and Winterfest to achieve such significant impact.

 

Learning with the Jewish New Teacher Project: A Series on Insights from Leaders in the Field

As a Foundation that wants to always learn—one of our internal values is Hitlamdoot—we need to hear directly from leaders and practitioners in the field. Particularly at this moment, understanding what these individuals are experiencing, thinking, doing, and planning is integral to building our team’s knowledge base about the many subfields that makeup the broader world of Jewish education and engagement.

In this vein, representatives from different grantee-partners are speaking with the Foundation each month in Learning Sessions. While initially we planned for these sessions to be entirely internal, the insights and perspectives we are hearing from grantee-partners will be interesting and informative for others as well. We continue to approach our work with Kavanah, intention, to always elevate the efforts of others who help us pursue our mission. And we look forward to sharing brief recaps of each Learning Session. Read previous recaps on learning sessions with Daniel Septimus, CEO of Sefaria, Deborah Meyer, founder and CEO, and Rabbi Tamara Cohen, VP of Program Strategy, Moving Traditions, and Sarah Levin, CEO of JIMENA.

Learning Session Guest: Nina Bruder, Senior Director, Jewish New Teacher Project

Nina Bruder, Senior Director at the Jewish New Teacher Project (JNTP), began by sharing the organization’s mission:

The Jewish New Teacher Project, a division of New Teacher Center, is dedicated to improving student learning in Jewish day schools by accelerating the effectiveness of new teachers and promoting the growth of school leadership

JNTP has a long-standing and valuable relationship to its parent organization, the New Teacher Center (NTC), which influences JNTP’s work, especially with of its focus on DEI efforts. This relationship with NTC also enables JNTP to bring “outside expertise” to the Jewish private school community, something less common in the Jewish communal sector.

As Nina shared her insights, she explained that she was modeling how JNTP runs various training and support programs for educators. The collaborative norms JNTP brings to all shared learning include:

  • Stay curious
  • Equity of Voice
  • Active Listening
  • Perspective-Taking
  • Safety and Confidentiality
  • Respectful Use of Electronics

JNTP and the New Teacher Center (NTC): A Mutually Beneficial Relationship
Founded in 1998, NTC started as a UC Santa Cruz Department of Education initiative to support new teachers as they started their careers. NTC pioneered the successful “new teacher induction model,” leveraging seasoned educators to support those who were new to their field. Once the program was in place with a stable budget and developed content, they parted ways with the university to increase their range and impact.

Ellen Moir, NTC’s founder and CEO for 20 years, says that relationships are key to NTC’s mission. Moir, who grew up disconnected from her Jewish roots, was contacted by the AVI CHAI Foundation about bringing NTC’s work on teacher retention, cultivation, and success to Jewish private schools. She felt that this was a key personal moment – her son was of Bar Mitzvah age, and this was an opportunity for her professional expertise to connect with a neglected part of her personal life, as well as to fulfill her belief that “all students deserve a good teacher.”

Early on, NTC’s work was split into “projects” focused on public schools in specific geographic locations; as these separate initiatives were absorbed into NTC, the “Jewish New Teacher Project”—the only one to focus on private schools—was founded in 2002.

As part of NTC, JNTP can leverage the resources of a large organization. This includes NTC’s larger budget and staff, back-office functions such as HR and legal, an R&D department funding new content development, and quality research into impact and best practices, as well as a window outside the Jewish community and exposure to greater diversity of experiences.

As JNTP’s host, NTC benefits as well. JNTP pays overhead to NTC, contributes to the diversity of the organization, adds the unique perspective of the private school community, and benefits from the thriving relationship between the two organizations.

The New Teacher Center’s New Focus on Social Justice and Equity through Education
In the past five years, Moir and her two other founders retired. The new CEO is Dr. Desmond Blackburn, a former superintendent. The entire C-level leadership team is new and is more geographically diverse, expanding NTC’s national presence.

NTC’s new mission is more explicitly centered on increasing social justice and equity through education:

We work to disrupt the predictability of educational inequities for systemically underserved students by accelerating educator effectiveness.

The focus is shifting from teachers’ needs to students’ needs, with five target student populations defined as Students of Color (Black/Brown/Native); English Language Learners (ELL); Students with Disabilities; Students living in Poverty; and Children of Immigrants. Importantly, this shift has called attention to diversity within Jewish schools – socioeconomic, cultural, and religious diversity —that may not always be apparent. Although at first Jewish educators do not always see the diversity in their schools, when asked at trainings to reflect on their schools and their own classroom environments, Nina notes:

They start to realize there’s cultural diversity between Ashkenazi and Sephardi. In Brooklyn there’s a strong Syrian community, in LA there’s a very strong Persian community, and in all schools there are kids with learning differences. There are also very wide-ranging socioeconomic differences. When they start to think about who’s in their classrooms, the room gets quiet and they start to really get sensitized to things they were not paying as much attention to previously.

Reflections on JNTP’s DEI Journey and Conscientious Inclusion
From 2017-2018, the Pacific Educational Group led NTC staff in two annual two-day workshops on Courageous Conversations About Race. These powerful reflections on race were predicated on four agreements that JNTP brings to all professional learning:

  • Stay Engaged
  • Speak your Truth
  • Experience Discomfort
  • Expect and Accept Non-Closure

Although these were uncomfortable and difficult conversations for JNTP staff that took them beyond their comfort zones, the experience underscored the urgent need for change. This sparked other DEI work, including a JNTP Team White Fragility book club, a private learning session with Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz, and a move to incorporate diversity and equity into JNTP content.

JNTP staff experienced all along that Jews may not necessarily fit into the dominant narrative of white people as perpetrators of white supremacy. From 2020-2021, NTC’s DEI focus shifted from one solely focused on race to Conscientious Inclusion, which broadens the view of diversity to include multiple identities of people. NTC created Affinity Groups to provide space for colleagues to come together over shared identities, such as the People of Color, LGBTQ, and Nina chairs the Faith-Based Affinity Group. NTC also began working with the Valbrun Consulting Group on the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).

Based on a survey of every NTC employee, NTC and JNTP are at the “Minimization” mindset. Those in the Minimization mindset are either part of the minority group and don’t want to call attention to themselves or are the dominant group and fail to notice or differentiate others. NTC and JNTP are working towards Acceptance and Adaptation.

Conscientious Inclusion focuses on individual stories. JNTP’s emphasis on relationships expands this conversation. Although he comes from a public school background, NTC’s current CEO values religious education, helping JNTP continue to build and strengthen the relationship with its parent organization. NTC is so committed to work along the IDI continuum toward Acceptance and Adaptation that they have built into their staff learning days dedicated time to focus on Conscientious Inclusion and relationship-building among staff.

 

Learning with JIMENA: A Series on Insights from Leaders in the Field

As a Foundation that wants to always learn—one of our internal values is Hitlamdoot—we need to hear directly from leaders and practitioners in the field. Particularly at this moment, understanding what these individuals are experiencing, thinking, doing, and planning is integral to building our team’s knowledge base about the many subfields that makeup the broader world of Jewish education and engagement.

In this vein, representatives from different grantee-partners are speaking with the Foundation each month in Learning Sessions. While initially we planned for these sessions to be entirely internal, the insights and perspectives we are hearing from grantee-partners will be interesting and informative for others as well. We continue to approach our work with Kavanah, intention, to always elevate the efforts of others who help us pursue our mission. And we look forward to sharing brief recaps of each Learning Session. Read the first recap on learnings from Daniel Septimus, CEO of Sefaria, and the second recap from Deborah Meyer, founder and CEO, and Rabbi Tamara Cohen, VP of Program Strategy, Moving Traditions

Learning Session Guest: Sarah Levin, Executive Director, JIMENA

Sarah Levin, Executive Director of JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), first shared a personal anecdote to provide context for the conversation about JIMENA’s evolution:

I didn’t really connect my Sephardic heritage with the larger Jewish community until I took trips to Israel as a teenager, and even more so when I graduated college. It was in Israel where I discovered that this part of my heritage is connected to the Jewish people.

Organization Background

JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) OrganizationWhen Israel was founded, 650,000 of the one million Sephardic Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries fled to Israel as stateless refugees and today their descendants comprise more than half of Israel’s Jewish population. The remaining refugees dispersed to countries throughout the world, and their experiences have been ignored and forgotten. Here in California there is an estimated 200,000 Mizrahi Jews, with the Iranian Jewish community in Southern California comprising one of the largest Middle Eastern diasporic communities in the world. Sarah’s feeling of disconnectedness from Sephardic community was shared by many of the children and grandchildren of JIMENA’s founders when they created the organization in 2002. Shortly after 9/11, a group of San Francisco Bay Area Jews from North Africa began to gather for the “purpose of redress and acknowledgement of what was taken from them and destroyed,” Sarah notes.

The mission of JIMENA grew from this history and experience. Today, JIMENA works to achieve universal recognition for the heritage and history of the 850,000 indigenous Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa and their descendants.

Sarah adds, “We can’t talk about JIMENA without acknowledging that Jewish people are indigenous to the Middle East and have had a continuous and ongoing presence in the region for nearly 3,000 years. We must acknowledge that there were periods of time when Jewish communities in Arab and Muslim countries thrived and the experiences of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, now and throughout history, isn’t monolithic whatsoever. There is incredible diversity in the culture, history, and experiences of Jewish people from the Middle East and North Africa.”

JIMENA’s Two Main Areas

JIMENA’s programs and partnerships fall into two main categories:

  1. Advocacy – This work primarily encompasses efforts to safeguard and restitute confiscated Jewish cultural property in and from the Middle East and North Africa. JIMENA also uses its unique intersectional position on campaigns to protect the American Jewish community from antisemitism.
  2. Education and Engagement – Core to this work has been sharing personal stories of Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews, and using these stories to educate the Jewish public. These are broad, expansive initiatives, some of which have concluded and are preserved in museums.

Initially JIMENA focused primarily on sending eye-witness speakers to college campuses to share their lived experiences as Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran , Sarah says. Today, our work is more expansive and we aim to serve as national hub and resource center for Jewish and non-Jewish groups seeking an access point to Sephardic Jewish life, leaders, and resources such as curriculum.

The education and engagement efforts also include JIMENA’s reach to about 400,000 individuals in the Arab world every week, JIMENA Insights from Leaders in the Fieldeducating people in that region of the world about Sephardic Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. This is a growing area of work, premised on important relationships.

JIMENA’s programs also focus on elevating Mizrachi and Sephardic voices so they are better positioned within the Jewish community. Its new Sephardic Leaders Fellowship, for example, aims to educate and empower Mizrachi and Sephardic leaders in the community. Adds Sarah, “These types of programs that educate and reconnect passionate Sephardic professionals and lay leaders to traditional Sephardic knowledge and to community can potentially help create the type systemic changes that our Jewish communities need.”

JIMENA also produces curricula about Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews that is used in over 200 schools across the world. Learn more about JIMENA’s use of Hacaham HaYomi  into these curriculum offerings.

Partnerships and DEI: A Connected Strategy

Partnerships are integral to JIMENA’s strategic approach to creating impact.

“We cannot do our work, cannot educate the public, and cannot advocate for the rights of Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews without partnerships,” Sarah adds. “Up to 80 percent of the programs JIMENA produces are in partnership with non-Sephardic organizations. We cannot strengthen Jewish communal efforts around DEI and support other Jewish institutions unless they have access to resources, knowledge, and information.”

Through JIMENA, partner organizations can access Sephardic thought leaders, rabbis, texts, and communities. JIMENA shares this access and knowledge with the hope that partner organizations will integrate what they’ve learned through JIMENA into their own programs and help their own communities become more diverse, inclusive, and better responsive to the needs of affiliated and unaffiliated Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews.

Adds Sarah, “We try to give practical knowledge, skills, and access to Jewish institutions through our partnership model and to strengthen their work around DEI. Thus, these partnerships enable JIMENA to work towards a more diverse and inclusive Jewish landscape that better “recognizes, reflects, and represents, Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews.”

This DEI work is—and has been—core to JIMENA’s purpose. Sarah notes, “We’ve been doing this work around DEI since we were formed – it’s the very essence of why we exist! JIMENA, like many other Sephardic organizations in the USA have followed in the tradition of Sephardic American Jews who have been here for hundreds of years and have worked both internally and externally to meet our own communities needs while navigating participation in mainstream Jewish spaces – often times unsuccessfully. JIMENA welcomes the emphasis to include Jews of Color in community, and, at the same time, there is still much work to be done to include and represent Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews appropriately.

Using Research to Create Impact

JIMENA laying groundwork for a major study of Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews. It has a 50 member Sephardic Advisory Committee—comprised of rabbis, community leaders, philanthropists, and scholarsIn recent years, the plethora of studies about different Jewish demographics exposed a void in JIMENA’s toolkit. JIMENA now is laying the groundwork for a major study of Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews. It has a 50 member Sephardic Advisory Committee—comprised of rabbis, community leaders, philanthropists, and scholars—currently discussing what such research should focus on and seek to find.

“Through an intensive process it’s quite clear that we need reliable demographic data and we also need qualitative data,” says Sarah. “Accurate numbers can help shape the communal landscape and inform how organizations serve and represent Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews. We are particularly interested in examining young adult and college aged Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews.”

Looking Ahead to Create Change

The importance of naming cannot be understated regarding Sephardic communities. “The majority of Sephardic leaders who I work with agree that we need more consensus and consent around language,” adds Sarah. “Who are we? How do we want to be defined, labeled, and represented in mainstream Jewish and non-Jewish spaces? We need to be provided with the space to decide how we want to fit within the frame of DEI initiatives and research. Many people are frustrated with labels and stereotypes that have been projected onto Sephardic communities – especially as the vast majority of Sephardic leaders are marginalized and removed from mainstream Jewish spaces, including spaces that focus on DEI.”

Mizrachi and Sephardic communities and cultures are incredibly diverse and many leaders carry traditions that are relevant today. There are communities of Sephardic rabbis and thought leaders that have a great deal of traditional knowledge on how the larger Jewish community can move forward towards building more inclusive, equitable communities.

We want to push the broader Jewish community to “go back to these ‘Sephardic well-springs’ to learn ancient communal modalities and practices that may help us all be more inclusive and meet the current needs of diverse Jewish communities.” Sarah says.

Learning from Grantee-Partners: A Series on Insights from Leaders in the Field

As a Foundation that wants to always learn—one of our internal values Hitlamdoot—we need to hear directly from leaders and practitioners in the field. Particularly at this moment, understanding what these individuals are experiencing, thinking, doing, and planning is integral to building our team’s knowledge base about the many subfields that makeup the broader world of Jewish education and engagement.

In this vein, representatives from different grantee-partners are speaking with the Foundation each month in Learning Sessions. While initially we planned for these sessions to be entirely internal, the insights and perspectives we are hearing from grantee-partners will be interesting and informative for others as well. We continue to approach our work with Kavanah, intention, to always elevate the efforts of others who help us pursue our mission. And we look forward to sharing brief recaps of each Learning Session. Read the first recap on learnings from Daniel Septimus, CEO of Sefaria, here.

As always, please let us know if you have any questions.

Learning Session Guests:
Deborah Meyer, founder and CEO, and Rabbi Tamara Cohen, VP of Program Strategy, Moving Traditions

Deborah Meyer, founder and CEO, shared the inspiration and impetus for launching Moving Traditions in 2005 with then Board Chair Sally Gottesman:

  • Identified the need to focus on building teen wellness as part of building Jewish identity
  • Recognized the value to teens of fostering their commitment to social justice
  • Sought to embolden Jewish teens to create community and world they want to live in

“When we started out, our concerns were focused on Jewish teen girls,” says Deborah. “Girls are at high risk of anxiety and depression as they enter adolescence. We wanted to connect Jewish teachings with social-emotional learnings from psychology and education to keep girls healthy and whole, as they enter adolescence and throughout their teen years. We wanted the Jewish community to understand the issues and social pressures that girls face in our society, and to address these issues as a core part of the Jewish education curriculum.”

After launching its Rosh Hodesh program for teen girls—and experiencing the success and demand for the program—Moving Traditions realized how important it was to offer something similar to Jewish boys. Deborah adds, “It turns out patriarchy isn’t good for boys either.” Like Rosh Hodesh, the Shevet program is a space for Jewish teen boys to come together in small groups and talk with each other and an adult male mentor about the joys and challenges of their lives.

When VP of Program Strategy Rabbi Tamara Cohen joined Moving Traditions, she created Tzelem, in collaboration with Keshet, as a third parallel group for non-binary and transgender teens. Since then, some Tzelem groups have expanded to serve any teen looking for an affirming monthly LGBTQ+ Jewish space. Today these three programs—which all blend social emotional learning, a progressive understanding of gender and society, and Judaism—are one of Moving Traditions’ suite of offerings for  on its pathway to flourishing teens:

Taken together, these programs provide meaning, purpose, and health. Through these programs, and by training adults who work with teens, Moving Traditions opens a Jewish space for all teens to explore identity, gender, and the joys and challenges of adolescence.

While the field of Jewish education and engagement today sees building mental health as essential, Moving Traditions has been pioneering this approach for 16 years. Two key learnings that deeply inform its work today are the ideas that:

  • Resilience is at the heart, where social justice and wellness intersect. When teens work for change, they reduce their stress and build resilience, while also building communities and a society that is stronger and more just. “What’s good for individuals is good for society and the wider world,” adds Deborah.
  • Building “members” of society is necessary and important work. In addition to leadership development, Moving Traditions strives to develop engaged citizens, active “members” of their community. Skills needed to be an active member, such as empathy, communication, and navigating differences are taught in its teen groups, Rosh Hodesh, Shevet, and Tzelem.

Responsive Curriculum and Teens’ Needs

In 2020, Moving Traditions conducted a rapid needs assessment to understand, in the midst of the pandemic, what teens and their families were experiencing and what they needed from congregations and other Jewish communal organizations. Moving Traditions found that teens are experiencing stress and feelings of dissociation from school—social distancing is the exact opposite of what teens need, developmentally—and the organization is concerned about long-term trauma. At the same time, teens are incredibly resilient. They are creative and they want to help their families and community, and work for social justice. “We can help teens find their outlet for making a difference,” says Tamara.

Part of what we are doing right now is trying to help teens navigate risk-taking during these hard months of the pandemic. Moving Traditions generally approaches healthy risk-taking with openness, wanting teens to learn from their good and bad decisions. With the pandemic and the heightened consequences of bad decisions, we still have to honor the agency of teens and yet, perhaps more than ever we need to help them find the right balance.
– Tamara Cohen

During the pandemic, Moving Traditions generated responsive curriculum for its teen groups on the emerging issues that matter most to teens to engage them with a sense of meaning and purpose:

Seeing that all Jewish teen educators needed curricula that were easy to use and ready to engage teens, in addition to the responsive curricula it shared widely with all Jewish educators, Moving Traditions created Heart to Heart, a five-session course of intimate conversations on key issues in teen life and in our society today.  The program is a good fit for institutions looking for a way to offer engaging programming to mixed gender groups of teens in a different format than the organization’s Teen Groups. The experience offers value in and of itself and can serve as a gateway for institutions and teens to commit to Teen Groups.

By pivoting to online training, Moving Traditions trained twice the number of educators and clergy than previous years, and will continue using virtual platforms moving forward. In addition, they are addressing the needs of parents.

Broadening Impact and Looking Ahead

“We want teens and Jewish educators to have more access to our programs,” Tamara says. “We are focused on six core cities and we would like to expand and reach more teens by partnering with more institutions throughout the country.”

To scale its work, Moving Tradition’s strategy is to leverage partnerships—with national youth groups, regional teen groups, and individual synagogues, JCCs, camps, and other local organizations. Instead of hiring staff to directly deliver its programs to Jewish youth in every region, Moving Traditions conducts research and develops resources—and then partners with local organizations to implement its programs. To ensure quality and preparedness, Moving Traditions trains its partner educators and clergy. This approach enables Moving Traditions have greater impact and to create change from within the Jewish community.

An exception to this strategy is the Kol Koleinu Feminist Fellowship, led by Moving Traditions in collaboration with URJ and USY, which now has 50 national feminist fellows in 10-12th grade. The fellowship emboldens Jewish teens to lead social change initiatives for their peers across the country. For example, in October, Kol Koleinu fellows led a three-part workshop series they created for new voters, “Voting with a Feminist Lens.”

“We are leveraging the passion of Jewish teens for social justice,” adds Tamara. “We equip Kol Koleinu Fellows with mentors and frameworks for creating changemaking projects which they implement for and with the Jewish teens in their networks. In this way we are fostering social justice leadership and Jewish engagement for this generation of teens.”

Partnering with national organizations such as URJ and USY, with regional Teen Initiatives, as well as with individual synagogues, day schools, and camps, Moving Traditions is thinking about how it can further leverage its collaborations to engage more Jewish youth across the country.

“As a result of Moving Traditions’ work, clergy and educators are joining our idea to embrace wellness and social justice activism. We are actually changing the Jewish teen curriculum. As a result, people are experiencing Judaism as a force for good.
– Deborah Meyer

 

 

 

 

Learning from Grantee-Partners: A Series on Insights from Leaders in the Field

As a Foundation that wants to always learn—one of our internal values Hitlamdoot—we need to hear directly from leaders and practitioners in the field. Particularly at this moment, understanding what these individuals are experiencing, thinking, doing, and planning is integral to building our team’s knowledge base about the many subfields that makeup the broader world of Jewish education and engagement. 

In this vein, representatives from different grantee-partners are speaking with the Foundation each month in Learning Sessions. While initially we planned for these sessions to be entirely internal, the insights and perspectives we are hearing from grantee-partners will be interesting and informative for others as well. We continue to approach our work with Kavanah, intention, to always elevate the efforts of others who help us pursue our mission. And we look forward to sharing brief recaps of each Learning Session here.

As always, please let us know if you have any questions.

Learning Session Guest: Daniel Septimus, CEO, Sefaria

Daniel shared the genesis and history of Sefaria, which offers important context when thinking about how ideas come to life:

  • Neither of Sefaria’s founders came from traditional, formal Jewish education backgrounds.
  • They saw a void and a stark limitation to accessing English language Jewish texts online.
  • The most difficult aspect of beginning this type of venture was raising enough funds initially to make it possible. 

Three Pillars

Sefaria has three pillars that define who they are and why they do this work. These pillars strike a balance between a focused approach and an understanding that they don’t always know what they don’t know. Their pillars are:

1. Access

  • Jewish texts are the Jewish people’s collective inheritance and they belong to all of us. Accordingly, all Jewish texts should be as accessible as possible—in translation and available online for free.
  • Sefaria aims to make these texts not just available but accessible—meaning comprehensible and meaningful to those who encounter them. 
  • Sefaria believes it can use technology to help people find things they wouldn’t find on their own.

2. Infrastructure 

  • Sefaria considers this to be its most important pillar; its core value proposition is a free database—a project that if done right only needs to be done once. 
  • They don’t know what kind of devices people will be studying Torah on in 20 years, but they know those devices will be chomping on digital data. 
  • They want technologists in the future to be able to use Sefaria and this is why they hold tight to their Open Source philosophy—where everything on Sefaria is free for use and reuse, forever.

3. Education

  • Sefaria operates on the principle that Sefaria can make Jewish learning not just easier but better
  • Sefaria can power education in nearly any environment—camp; rabbinic; school; home; and elsewhere.

Without Sefaria I would be stuck as I literally cannot afford many sefarim and do not live close to a Beit Midrash I can easily access as a woman. It is brilliant and more translations and more texts are always welcomed by those of us who do not have top notch Hebrew and Aramaic. – Sefaria user

How Sefaria Operates
Sefaria operates like a technology company. They build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), put it out into the world, get feedback on its usefulness, and make changes if it makes sense to advance that product. As Daniel says, “this is a much different way of working than building a five-year plan.”

Daniel also notes that this approach does create challenges with traditional funders and fundraising. “As a general rule, we don’t promise product features. We can’t promise it until we do it.”

New Developments and Challenges Ahead
New features connect texts on Sefaria to diverse sources on a wide array of external Jewish websites, media, and other organizations, broadening the commentary and perspectives with which users can engage. 

As the organization looks ahead, there is an exciting element of the unknown, rich with possibilities. Daniel notes, “For the first time we know we’ll be around in five more years. While opportunities are vast, it’s less obvious what the priorities should be. But that’s fun. At some point, your new directions are more compelling than your original directions. This creates a need to prioritize or to get more resources.”

One thing Sefaria knows for sure is that it will not compromise on its core principle to offer open access. Sefaria’s “brand is rooted in the fact that we are this source of infinite generosity.” With that in mind, Sefaria is thinking about how to translate texts into more languages, how to make Torah written by women more accessible, and how to create opportunities for a deeper experience, like matching people for chevrutah study.

 

Timely Resources and Programs to Meet the Moment

These resources are geared primarily toward educators and other professionals in the field to support their work and leadership during this challenging time.

Upcoming and Timely:

  • Reboot’s campaign “PlastOver: An Exodus From Plastic Waste” offers resources to help “take the first step out of slavery to our plastic-driven economy by committing to eliminate your use of single-use plastic for the duration of the Passover holiday.”
  • Hadar offers a Pre-Pesach virtual Beit Midrash over the next few weeks. Whether you have a full hour or just 15 minutes to spare, there are options for all schedules and learning backgrounds.
  • The Jewish Educator Portal has curated “an exciting blend of Passover resources to help your students connect with the Exodus.”
  • The Pardes Daily offers offers quick and engaging learning opportunities to prepare for Pesach.
  • M² The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education offers Days of Gratitude, a six month gratitude experience centered around Jewish holidays each month.

With Education and Engagement in Mind:

  • Pardes offers different professional development opportunities for Jewish educators during the summer to help them “grow as educators, deepen their impact on students, and remain inspired.”
  • With travel to Israel is still on hold, Makom continues to develop new ways of learning about and from Israel, including its “new and exciting set of educational resources in the form of a project we call Zimrat Ha’aretz: Makom’s New Israeli Playlist.
  • New research from the Benenson Strategy Group offers insights on the kinds of virtual programming Jewish young adults are seeking out right now.
  • Prizmah’s Reshet groups enable day school faculty, educators, and lay leaders to network with peers and colleagues. Choose from groups Judaic Administrator, Learning Specialist, Orthodox Women Leadership, and more.
  • The Jewish Education Project launched The Jewish Educator Portal, filled with curated content and resources, ongoing professional development, and a mechanism to create community by holding their own convenings and gatherings.
  • Hebrew at the Center offers a full menu of online resources for Hebrew teachers and leaders to specifically help prepare schools and the field for the continued uncertainty.
  • Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion has a resource guide with tips and best practices for “Teaching in Relationship Online.”
  • The Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative (FC) launched NewRealityResources.com to aggregate timely content and offerings for Jewish youth professionals and educators who work with Jewish teens.
  • The iCenter offers materials and links to live experiences to help educators continue Israel education.
  • The Jewish New Teacher Project has a list of free ed-tech resources for schools that have moved to online learning and ‘low-tech’ ideas for home learning.
  • Facing History and Ourselves has “readings and resources to start important conversations with your students about the coronavirus outbreak, and to explore questions about community, responsibility, decision-making and upstanding that are relevant in this moment.”
  • CASJE has curated a set of resources that look at how changes as a result of COVID-19 are testing education in a variety of settings, including K-12 schooling, after-school learning, early childhood education, and higher education.
  • Torrey Trust, Ph.D. at University of Massachusetts Amherst has a presentation available on “Teaching Remotely in Times of Need.”
  • Moving Traditions has a thoughtful “Blessing for B’nai Mitzvah Impacted by the Coronavirus.”

Helping Leaders Navigate Crises:

For Self-Care:

  • The COVID Grief Network, an international mutual aid network, offers free 1:1 and group grief support and builds long-term community for young adults in their 20s and 30s who are grieving the illness or death of someone to COVID-19.
  • JPRO and Jewish Federations of North America offer Rise, an initiative to help out-of-work Jewish community professionals financial resources, career resources and personal resilience resources.
  • Maharat and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah “have partnered to launch an exciting new program: Mind the Gap: A Mini Sabbatical designed for Jewish professionals who are headed to or in-between jobs in the Jewish communal sector, with the goals of deepening knowledge of Jewish content and strengthening leadership skills.” You can share the names and email addresses of potential candidates at [email protected]

 

A New Road Map for the Foundation

The following letter introduced the Foundation’s new Road Map in the October 2019 edition of its newsletter, A Closer Look.

More than two years ago, the Foundation began a major process to examine our grantmaking strategies and desired outcomes. With that process complete, we are pleased to share a new Road Map detailing how the Foundation approaches and supports effective Jewish learning experiences that are meaningful and helpful to people throughout different inflection points in their lives. We invite you to view the Road Map in Talmud Daf format, which includes core assumptions, principles, long-term outcomes, and accompanying commentary. You’ll also see our new Logic Models that detail each strategic priority.

The Foundation’s mission—to foster compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences for young Jews—remains unchanged, as laser-focused as before. Yet, we recognize the need to take more risks, to identify more ways and places in which learning occurs, and to both lead and collaborate more to pursue this mission in today’s world. The Road Map shares a new aspiration, indicative of Jim Joseph’s, z”l, belief that Jewish learning can significantly influence a person’s whole self and her or his place in society. We want the Foundation’s philanthropic efforts in Jewish learning to inspire all Jews, their families, and their friends to lead connected, meaningful, and purpose-filled lives. Jewish learning should inspire them to make contributions to their communities and beyond.

We hope these new materials on the Foundation’s strategic approach are helpful to you and articulate how we approach our work today. Please let us know any questions and feedback you have.

Responding to Pittsburgh: Resources for Educators, Funders, and Parents

Like you, our Saturday morning was filled with shock and sadness. We are devastated by the tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. We join with others from around the world, from so many communities, mourning the victims and praying for the recovery of all who were affected. We continue to be in touch with our colleagues in Pittsburgh to learn how we can best offer support and help at this time. Below are a few resources from our various partners and colleagues that you may find helpful both professionally and personally.

Jewish Education: An Every Day Response to Hate

Like so many, we are angry, upset and concerned by the recent public demonstrations of anti-Semitism, racism, and hatred in this country. As a foundation devoted to Jewish education and Jewish life, the events in Charlottesville struck a particular nerve—especially knowing that our founder, Jim Joseph, z”l, came to the United States with his family as a young child to escape the rise of Nazism in Eastern Europe.

The recent displays of hatred and violence by white nationalists move us to take action, and to invite others to do the same. With the school year beginning, we see a clear opportunity to support educators to channel their students’ concerns about these events into essential lessons about tolerance and civil discourse and ways to respond to anti-Semitism. The Foundation currently is exploring investments that will help meet the surge in demand from educators across the country for the specific training and resources necessary to engage students in these critical learning experiences.

As we respond to these needs, grantee partners and the Foundation will continue our ongoing work supporting excellent Jewish education in its many forms. This work is designed in part to support youth to find meaning in Jewish tradition and to inspire them to create, and be a part of, a promising Jewish future. These efforts are not in response to any events. Rather, ongoing, compelling Jewish learning is a worthy pursuit in its own right and when it inspires and builds pride in Jewish teachings and values it also serves to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of hate and injustice.

Together with our grantees, we strive to imbue these teachings and values in our youth and in our communities every day. Simply stated, we believe that education to this end accesses pride. Our ancient texts combined with the modern visions and diligent efforts of dedicated individuals and organizations provide powerful inspiration for this work. Here are some timely words and teachings shared by valued grantees:

A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.
– Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (shared by Sarah Lefton, BimBam)The formula is simple. Raise children with an understanding of how to treat each other and give them opportunities to practice throughout their lives. Teach them to welcome guests into their homes. Teach them to be brave. Teach them to say that they are sorry when they cause harm. Teach them to respect the earth and not squander its resources. Teach them to pursue peace. Teach them to make the world a better place.
– The Team at BimBam

 

Franz Rosenzweig in a 1920 essay translated as “Towards a Renaissance of Jewish Learning” (shared by Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, Shalom Hartman Institute):Readiness is the one thing we can offer to the Jewish individual within us, the individual we aim at. Only the first gentle push of the will – and “will” is almost too strong a word – that first quite gentle push we give ourselves when in the confusion of the world we once quietly say, “we Jews,” and by that expression commit ourselves for the first time to the eternal pledge that, according to an old saying, makes every Jew responsible for every other Jew.

…There is one recipe alone that can make a person Jewish and hence – because [she/he] is a Jew and destined to a Jewish life – a full human being: that recipe is to have no recipe, as I have just tried to show in, I feel, rather inadequate words. Our [sages] had a beautiful word for it that says everything: confidence.

Confidence is the word for a state of readiness that does not ask for recipes, and does not mouth perpetually, “What shall I do then,” and “How can I do that?” confidence is not afraid of the day after tomorrow. It lives in the present, it crosses recklessly the threshold leading from today into tomorrow…

Rosenzweig insists we do not mine the tradition conveniently to respond to particular political problems. We engage our tradition perpetually because it shapes us as political actors and as Jewish human beings – who then, in turn, are able to perform our responses to particular problems with a different kind of confidence.
– Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer

With these words as inspiration, we will continue our work with grantee partners to provide outstanding, meaningful Jewish experiences. In moments like these, philanthropy is in a unique position to deploy resources and influence to create change. And while these social issues are far too large and complicated for any one funder or organization to deeply impact alone, we learn from Rabbi Tarfon in Pirkei Avot that even knowing that we cannot complete the work, we are not free to desist from it. Each of us has an obligation to do our part, bringing our unique knowledge, expertise, and support to bear.

To all others who are feeling similarly stirred to action, we urge you to recognize the opportunity to act in the ways you know best, using your resources as you see fit. Let’s not let the immensity of these challenges paralyze us.

May we all go from strength to greater strength,

The Jim Joseph Foundation