CASJE’s latest paper reveals staffing shortage at supplementary schools

The new paper from CASJE analyzes the supply and demand of Jewish educators

A growing industry of academic degree and training providers is helping the field of Jewish education meet its staffing needs, but supplemental schools, such as those in synagogues, face shortages, according to a new paper from the Collaborative of Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE).

“It’s the supplementary school sector that has shaped the narrative around a shortage. The personnel needs are immense there,” Alex Pomson, a researcher involved in the project, told eJewishPhilanthropy.

Prepared by Rosov Consulting, where Pomson is the managing director, “Mapping the Marketplace,” is part of CASJE’s “Career Trajectories of Jewish Educators,” the first such study of the entire field since the 2006 “Educators in Jewish Schools” study.

This lack of recent hard data hampered philanthropic decision-making across the community, said Darin McKeever, president and CEO of the William Davidson Foundation, which with the Jim Joseph Foundation supported the study over two and a half years with grants totaling $1.5 million. The project also conducted the field’s first-ever census. It found that there were 72,000 Jewish educators working in the United States in 2019.

“We funded this for the field, not for our foundations,” McKeever said.

The conclusions in “Mapping the Marketplace” were drawn from a combination of interviews, surveys and focus groups in eight Jewish communities selected to provide a cross section of American Jewry: Austin, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, the San Francisco Bay area, Miami-Dade County in Florida and Nassau and Westchester Counties in New York. The educators responded to surveys, and some sat for follow-up interviews. Of the respondents, 40% work in day schools; 20% in supplemental schools and 20% are early childhood educators. The rest are informal educators or work in innovation or social justice organizations, federations or independently.

The researchers decided to analyze the supply-and-demand dynamics of the Jewish education labor market because the lack of data on the subject has caused participants in the market — from funders to hiring managers to aspiring educators — to make decisions based on unexamined assumptions about the field of Jewish education as a whole.

The new study defines “educator” as one who educates or “engages” in a Jewish setting, regardless of the subject taught or whether the educator identifies as Jewish. That definition, a shift from the definition used in the 2006 study, captures more and newer educator roles, such as those who work in camps, youth groups and adult education programs.

The identification and analysis of these new roles by the larger “Career Trajectories” project indicates that it might no longer make sense to look at Jewish education as a single field, unlike in 2006.

“A question rattling around in my mind is whether future research should be in slices,” said Barry Finestone, president and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation. “Every once in a while there should be a massive study, and then we should ask what are the responsibilities of the individual sectors.”

Historically, local bureaus of Jewish education or similar institutions supported by federations or denominations offered preparation and professional development for Jewish educators at supplemental schools, day schools and, to some extent, early childhood centers, according to the report. Now most of those institutions no longer exist or are moribund. In their place, colleges and universities and independent operators are offering degrees, certifications and training.

The growth of these educational options makes it easier for aspiring educators to be matched up with employers. Candidates entering the field with certifications are hired by employers so quickly that preparation programs no longer need to offer job placement services, according to the report.

However, the $50,000 price tag of a degree — almost as much as a year’s salary — means that many would-be educators can’t afford training unless the program attracts philanthropic support to subsidize the tuition, according to the report. As a result, some don’t enter the field at all, while others take the plunge but are ill-prepared, and then leave.

Also, the existing training programs tend to focus more on developing the personal qualities that will foster successful Jewish engagement, and less on content knowledge.

“Does the ecosystem of professional development opportunities offer the necessary training and support for educators to reach their full potential and succeed?” McKeever asked, adding that the research also raises the question of whether these opportunities are being designed with the input of employers.

“As good research does,” he noted, “[the study] oftentimes raises more questions than it answers.”

While some synagogues that provide supplementary Jewish education have been able to hire staff relatively easily due to their location, because their leaders attract candidates or because the congregation itself is a source of staff, most are engaged in what the report calls a “perpetual struggle” to maintain their rosters, even describing themselves as “dependent on miracles” to do so.

Just under half of supplementary schools report needing to replace more than half of their staff each year, which is a higher rate of turnover than in other sectors. No day school head who responded to the survey said they faced a similar problem.

“From a model standpoint, supplementary schools need to be seriously looked at,” Finestone said, especially because the institutions that offer supplementary education often depend on the revenue generated by those programs. “The delivery mechanisms are fundamentally the same, yet everything else has changed.”

Day schools do struggle with their own hiring challenges, in that they require educators to have more specialized skills, such as the ability to teach Hebrew.

“I want someone who is a content expert,” one head of school quoted in the survey said. “It’s important that they know the material. I want somebody who has pedagogical expertise.”

Going forward, CASJE will convene funders and practitioners, including at an event with the Association of Directors of Communal Agencies for Jewish Education and in a series of webinars with the Jewish Funders Network.

“It’s too early to say exactly what actions we’ll take,” Finestone said. “The first thing is to engage with the study, to read it and understand it. We were interested in CASJE for this because it’s ‘applied research.’”

originally published in eJewish Philanthropy

How Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped an effort to promote female leadership in Jewish institutions

About two years before Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, the Genesis Prize Foundation gave out $3.5 million for gender equity initiatives in honor of the Supreme Court justice. One of the Ginsburg grants has now borne fruit with the release of a report on why there are relatively few female leaders in Jewish institutions — and how to fix the problem. 

According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Ginsburg reviewed the grants and upon learning about the planned report shook her head, appalled that Jewish organizations were still struggling with a gender gap in leadership. 

“[Ginsburg’s] attitude was almost: ‘We’re still doing this?’” Jill Smith, a Genesis Prize official who was with Ginsburg for the review, said in an interview with The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The organization that went on to do the study is called Leading Edge. Founded in 2014, Leading Edge advises Jewish nonprofits on how to retain employees and foster their development into leaders. (70 Faces Media, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s parent company, has participated in Leading Edge surveys.)

In this instance, the group’s focus was on gender, and it found signs that women are gaining more representation on boards and in executive offices. Women now lead nearly half of all Jewish federations, according to the study, which also noted that high-profile executive openings at the JDC and the Jewish Theological Seminary were filled by women last year. 

But overall, the survey found, women still tend to run smaller nonprofits and programs. Most Jewish summer camps are run by men, as are nearly two-thirds of Jewish community centers and all but one of the 17 federations serving large metropolitan areas. 

“The persistent leadership gender gap means that we are not leveraging the talent, experience, and perspective of all the leaders in our community,” Gali Cooks, the president and CEO of Leading Edge, said in a statement. 

The gender gap in leadership is a problem for the wider nonprofit world, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and evangelical Christian organizations tend to have a larger imbalance than Jewish ones. 

To produce the report, Leading Edge researchers spent two years on surveys, workshops and listening sessions about the perceived causes of the gap, reaching 1,200 people. In that effort, the researchers identified 71 causes and synthesized them into five recommendations on how to bring about change.

The report says that existing leaders should make gender diversity a priority in recruiting new leaders, and that overall staffing practices should incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion strategies. 

Two of the recommendations have to do with bias. Prevailing perceptions about what qualities are desired in a leader can lead to prejudices against women, the report says. Meanwhile, many believe that a top leader cannot also be a primary caregiver, leading to detrimental assumptions about candidates who are mothers. 

Lastly, the report calls on men to become advocates on the issue of leadership diversity. 

The report, which looked at gender from a binary prism, acknowledged trans and nonbinary identities in a footnote and called for further studies.  

originally published: “How Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped an effort to promote female leadership in Jewish institutions,” Asaf Shalev, JTA, August 19, 2021

Researchers unveil massive study on Jews of color, boosting fight for racial justice with hard data

For the past few years, Jews of color in the United States have been counted and recounted. They’ve been argued over and used as props in ideological battles.

Now their own voices have emerged as hard data with the release Thursday of the most comprehensive survey of Jews of color ever carried out.

The movement fighting racism within the Jewish community is heralding the study as a watershed moment.

Responses from more than 1,100 people in the study reveal a deep engagement with Jewish identity that has often come with experiences of discrimination in communal settings.

In some cases, Jews of color said they are ignored. In others they are casually interrogated about their race and ethnicity. Respondents said white Jews will sometimes presume a need to educate them about Jewish rituals or assume they are present in synagogues or schools as nannies and security guards rather than community members.

Some 80% of respondents said they have experienced discrimination in Jewish settings.

Titled “Beyond the Count,” the study out of Stanford University corroborates with data and the anecdotes of racism in the Jewish community that have been widespread for years.

The study’s sponsor and research team hope the findings will jolt Jewish institutions into funding initiatives for and by Jews of color and changing the composition of decision-making bodies to reflect Jewish diversity.

“This study validates the experiences of Jews of color, and it also takes away a bit of the illusion that Jewish community organizations are doing enough to respond to racism and racial injustice,” said Ilana Kaufman, executive director of the Jews of Color Initiative, which commissioned and funded the study. Kaufman also shared her reaction to the study in an essay.

Its 1,118 participants were found through an online survey that started with a series of screening questions to ensure that only those identifying as Jews of color were included. The study was not designed to be a statistical representation of all Jews of color but as an in-depth sampling of the views. Interviews with 61 of the participants provided additional texture and nuance.

In a finding that baffled researchers, two-thirds of respondents were women.

Nearly half of the participants identified with one or more racial categories, while two-thirds said they were biracial, mixed or multiracial. One in five were Black or African-American, about a tenth were Hispanic or Latino, and a tenth were Asian. Some 7% identified as North African or Middle Eastern, and a small percentage identified with other racial or ethnic groups.

Two-thirds of the respondents were raised Jewish and a similar percentage have at least one Jewish parent. About 40% said they converted to Judaism.

The researchers behind the study noted the diversity of both backgrounds and views among the participants.

“Jews of color are anything but monolithic, but there are common, prevalent trends about the places and moments when they are not fully embraced by the community or made to only bring a part of themselves to a program or congregation,” said Dalya Perez, a member of the research team who works as an equity strategist for Microsoft. According to her biographical description, Perez is the daughter of an immigrant father from the Philippines and a refugee mother who is a Sephardic Jew from Egypt.

One Native American interviewee quoted in the report had moved to a new area and sought out community at a local synagogue. What the woman encountered were intrusive questions about her identity.

“At times I’ve had to compartmentalize sides of myself because it’s just so mentally exhausting facing the ‘What are you?’ questions,” she said.

A Black man who is active in the Jewish community told researchers about a similar experience of being scrutinized over his perceived differences.

“I went to Shabbat services recently and a woman came up to me and said without introducing herself, ‘Shabbat Shalom. So are you here for a religion class? Did you convert?’” he recalled.

One set of findings that researchers said should galvanize Jewish leaders to specific actions has to do with Jews of color seeking community with one another. Nearly 40% of participants said they had no close friends who are also Jews of color and half said talking to other Jews of color about their experiences was very important. Jews of color can have a sense of belonging among white Jews, the survey said, but only about half said they have felt they belong.

Perez said these findings demand “tangible” investments in community initiatives for Jews of color.

Defining exactly what the term “Jew of color” means is a challenge that the researchers and the wider Jewish racial justice movement have grappled with for years.

Calling it an “imperfect, but useful umbrella term,” the study said those who identified as Jews of color for a variety of reasons. Some were referring to belonging to a racial group as is common in the United States. Others use the term to capture their national, geographic or ethnic heritage, as in the case of certain Iranian, Ethiopian or Sephardic Jews.

The ambiguity of the term arose previously in debates over the total number of Jews of color in the U.S. Estimates of the community range from 6% to 15% depending on the study and definition. A 2019 report from the Jews of Color Initiative argued that the community has been chronically undercounted because of poor study designs.

The recent Jewish population report from the Pew Research Center did not attempt to answer the question, but it did conclude that 92% of Jews identify as white.

As the title “Beyond the Count” suggests, the new study’s authors want to turn the focus away from past debates and move toward a deeper understanding of Jewish diversity.

Asked how they express their Jewishness, the participants offered five main responses. Three out of four said that working for justice and equality was very important to their Jewish identity. About two-thirds selected passing on their Judaism, honoring ancestors, remembering the Holocaust and celebrating holidays as very important expressions of Jewishness.

The quotes from interviewees enlivened the numbers and pointed to the wide-ranging ways in which Jews of color conceive of their identity. One woman, who identified as white, Black and Native, spoke about the significance of being outdoors and observing birds or the rustling of leaves.

“Nature grounds me that there’s a creator responsible for all of this,” she said.

An Indian American talked about the challenge of keeping kosher in the South, while an Asian American said they had recently brought people together for a Bollywood-themed Shabbat ritual.

“With every person I talked to, their story was so unique and interesting,” said Gage Gorsky, one of the researchers. “Each time I said, ‘Wow, yeah, another way to be Jewish that I hadn’t even thought of.’”

Correction: Aug. 12, 2021: A previous version of this story said that 83% of respondents were women, but that is the percentage of interviewees who were women. Only 67% of respondents were women. 

originally published: “Researchers unveil massive study on Jews of color, boosting fight for racial justice with hard data,” Asaf Shalev, JTA, August 12, 2021

Can Online Experiences Impact Jewish Outcomes? New Data Says Yes

Online Jewish content has the potential to meet a wide range of needs

By Ami Eden

The pandemic may be receding, but the continuing expansion of Jewish life online — from classes to family activities to prayer services — will continue. As a result, it has never been more important to understand the nature and depth of the impact that digital experiences can have on people’s Jewish lives, identities and practices.

At 70 Faces Media, the largest Jewish digital publisher in the U.S., we’ve been fielding questions about digital impact for years, especially in talks with funders. Are online Jewish experiences “real”? Is there really any lasting value in visiting a website, opening an email or interacting on social media? How can online activity influence Jewish choices?

Luckily, to paraphrase a great (or, at least, a “big”) sage: New data has come to light. And the underlying message is a powerful one — not only does digital media have the ability to reach unprecedented levels of people in a highly cost effective manner (in our case: 3 million+ monthly web visitors, 1 million+ social followers and 300,000 email subscribers), but online Jewish content has the potential to meet a wide range of needs and impact people in many different ways.

The new data comes courtesy of a report (that we, 70 Faces Media, commissioned from Rosov Consulting) evaluating the Jewish impact of our national brands: the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, My Jewish Learning, Kveller, Alma and The Nosher.

When the pandemic hit in the first months of 2020, 70 Faces Media was already in the middle of a strategic shift toward a focus on deepening our engagement with and impact on our users (in addition to driving overall traffic growth).

With an increased focus on the depth and quality of our digital engagement, those old questions about impact became more relevant than ever.

The first problem in addressing those questions was that it was unclear what to measure — there is no gold standard (or even a bronze one) for measuring online Jewish impact. And even if we knew what to measure, there was still the second problem of how to measure it — our various analytics tools can tell us plenty about usage and general demographics, but nothing about the Jewish identity, knowledge and behaviors of our users.

To answer these questions — with the support of the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies and the William Davidson Foundation — we turned to Rosov Consulting.

The process began with Rosov Consulting helping us articulate the Theory of Change that underlies the work of 70 Faces Media — in other words, clarifying the Jewish impact that we aim to have on the lives of our users. This Theory of Change process entailed in-depth interviews with 15 key stakeholders, including funders, board members, and professional staff, and culminated with a commitment to the following goals:

  • Increase users’ Jewish knowledge by finding answers to their Jewish questions and relevance to their own lives in Jewish teachings, traditions and practices.
  • Increase users’ sense of Jewish connectedness and belonging, and build Jewish communities by feeling more strongly connected to Judaism, Jewish life and the wider Jewish world and feeling a greater sense of belonging to a Jewish community.
  • Empower users’ Jewish discovery and exploration by making them feel more confident to engage in Jewish life and helping them explore and embark on a Jewish journey if they choose to do so.

The next step, and the core component of the study, was an online survey of 2,532 users across all five brands conducted in August 2020 focused on if and how we were meeting these mission goals. (The acquisition of our sixth major brand, the New York Jewish Week, would not come until several months later.)

The survey explored users’ pattern of engagement with the five existing 70 Faces Media brands and the impact of engagement with the brands on their Jewish lives. Finally, the study included 10 focus groups with a total of 52 users of the five brands in order to further explore the picture that emerged from the survey findings.


What does 70 Faces Media’s Jewish impact look like?

Rosov Consulting identified four clear areas of impact aligning with the mission goals in our Theory of Change:

  1. Increased knowledge of Jewish culture, tradition, and practice. Users find all five brands (each in its unique way) to be valuable sources of information and learning about Jewish tradition and contemporary Jewish culture.
  2. Greater sense of connection to a diverse Jewish world. By learning about and gaining an appreciation of the multiplicity of Jewish life around the world, 70FM users gain a strong sense of connection to a Jewish People beyond their local or national Jewish community.
  3. Enhanced Jewish social connections. Our readers use the articles, videos, infographics, guides, and other types of content across our brands to connect friends and family (Jewish and not) to Jewish information and traditions and to support their communal ties.
  4. Increased confidence to explore Jewish life, traditions, and practice. The knowledge they gain gives users (and especially those with little Jewish background) the confidence to explore Jewish life, both privately and as part of a community. This increased confidence leads some users to take on new Jewish practices or elaborate and enhance on existing Jewish practices.

Are specific brands or channels more potent than others in driving Jewish impact?

It turns out that we are delivering impact across all five brands. “While some brands are more impactful in some domains, all brands have some impact in all domains,” Rosov Consulting  concluded.

Who are we having the most impact with?

The research found that we generate the greatest Jewish outcomes for users who grew up doing few “Jewish things” and had little Jewish education, and/or users who are highly interested and engaged in Jewish life today (but users who are less engaged in Jewish life are impacted as well).

Is there a discernible engagement tipping point where our Jewish impact increases?

Our impact intensifies with users who: access the brands frequently (at least several times a month) and/or access the brands through multiple entryways, including web, email, and social media (there is, nevertheless, impact on users who access brands less frequently or through a single entryway.)

For those of us at 70 Faces Media, the most surprising of these findings was the determination that all of our brands are impacting users in all four ways and at similar levels in all four ways.

Because our brands are so different and engage different types of audiences, this was a big insight for us — especially when combined with the finding that the more ways a person connects (web, email, social media, etc.), the stronger the impact.

This is an exciting and important revelation: It tells us that all the offerings we create and distribute, day-in and day-out, can and do impact our users — some people might be more attracted to one thing, some to another, but the majority of them are best served by the entirety of what we are offering them via any one brand.

In terms of our next strategic stage — with the goal of dramatically expanding our base of highly engaged and impacted users — these findings speak to the need to invest in our wider capabilities and a range of initiatives rather than focus our attention on any one “silver bullet” project.

We are committed to ensuring that this research does not turn into a one-time snapshot.

Toward that end, we will be using the report to develop a new multi-year plan to expand our base of highly impacted users and more generally to galvanize our organization at all levels behind our strategic focus on deeper engagement.

In the meantime, we are already incorporating the study’s impact questions into our ongoing user surveys, so we have a common language for understanding and measuring the impact of new products, brands and services like the New York Jewish Week and The Hub, our central portal for live online events featuring listings from more than 200 partners, in addition to our own significantly expanded roster of classes, courses and other events. (We are already gleaning important actionable insights from these post-research surveys, but that’s for another column.)

While this research was focused exclusively on our own brands and channels, 70 Faces Media and Rosov Consulting believe the results — and our overall process — provide lessons for the wider field of online Jewish education and engagement. Among the most important are:

  • Clarifying desired outcomes is essential to measuring impact. The work of measuring the impact of the 70 Faces Media brands began by articulating a Theory of Change that specified the intended outcomes of the organization and positioned those in the broader context in which the five brands operate. Only by laying this groundwork first was Rosov Consulting able to generate survey questions and discussion guides that sensitively probed users’ experiences.
  • Jewish digital media can have outcomes that are cognitive (learning), social (community building), and behavioral (doing more). The fact that all of our brands are driving impact in the same variety of ways  — despite major differences in content, style and target audiences  —   is evidence of the wide ranging potential of different types of digital offerings to influence Jewish lives in a multitude of ways.
  • In some cases, Jewish digital media can deliver outcomes that are greater and/or different than expected. We found that brands intended primarily for learning (MJL, JTA) can be powerful connectors, and brands thought of as powerful community builders (Alma, Kveller) can also offer information and learning. And all of our brands, not only the ones offering concrete practical guidance (like The Nosher), have the power to empower and inspire people.

These lessons point to an important general principle for our fellow content producers and program providers: From time to time, put your assumptions to the test and be open to surprises. But, also, the specific twist we encountered provides an important general lesson for the wider field: Don’t sell yourself short — embrace digital’s potential to meet a wide range of needs. This is not a call to be all things to all people, but rather to recognize that digital allows you to achieve several important things at one time for many more people… simply by doing your main thing a little bit better, smarter and with a greater awareness of all the needs that you could potentially be meeting.

Ami Eden is the CEO and Executive Editor of 70 Faces Media. Those looking for more information about the study and opportunities to enhance your organization’s digital reach and capabilities should send an email to [email protected]

originally published in eJewish Philanthropy

Lessons in Scaling Initiatives for Maximum Impact

One of the ways in which funding partners can make the biggest impact is by recognizing and supporting ideas and efforts worth scaling. But how can well-intentioned funders realize the potential to help grantees grow and export relevant solutions far and wide? We’d like to share some recent lessons learned from a funding collaborative’s efforts to scale meaningful programs for teens in the Jewish community.

Although mental health has always been a concern for the teen population, 2020 and 2021 have seen increasing and alarming rates of stress, anxiety, and depression in teens and young adults. In response to these times, the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative and other partners have thought critically about how they might reach more teens in today’s climate.

Through 2019, the Funder Collaborative—in which national and local funders work together to develop, nurture, and scale new approaches to teen engagement—had delivered mental health training to 400 professionals. But this scale wasn’t enough. Guided by their ongoing work with Spring Impact, founded in 2011 to help mission-driven organizations create change at a greater scale, the Funder Collaborative decided to offer a virtual certification course for professionals, caregivers, and parents to train as Youth Mental Health First Aiders. The Funder Collaborative is now offering this course at no cost to nearly 1,000 professionals, caregivers, and parents, equipping them with a hands-on, five-step action plan for helping young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Each of the ten communities within the Funder Collaborative has integrated mental health wellness into their unique programming.

This example demonstrates how impactful, relevant programs can be scaled to reach thousands, while fostering local adaptation to each unique community.

By pooling resources, sharing toolkits, and learning how to adapt best practices to fit different programs, locations, markets, and audiences, local organizations can successfully scale up to maximize their impact and see results on a national level. While the value of scaling new approaches is clear, there are obstacles to accomplishing this in a sustainable way that centers local adaptation by each community.

Some of the main lessons the Funder Collaborative has learned to address these challenges include the following.

  1. Scaling does not equate to duplication. Programs must be evaluated and adapted to fit the unique context of a new setting or target population. Some of the most successful instances of scale have come from stripping back to specific elements of a successful program and thinking about creative models to extend this impact to new communities. In the Funder Collaborative’s experience, it’s crucial to consider nuanced scaling approaches that go beyond duplication — like centralization, accreditation, loose networks, and training or fellowship programs. Funders can help by introducing organizations to examples of others who have successfully scaled impact through looser, creative models.
  2. The time and resources it takes to scale are often underestimated. It is essential to have the drive and resources to scale impact. Often, organizations are unaware of the key elements necessary to scale successfully and underestimate the need for dedicated capacity and overestimate the demand from other communities. Scaling requires both time and capacity to plan and implement, as well as the ability to move beyond local funding restrictions. Taking into account the organization’s readiness to scale by assessing these key elements is a critical step before embarking on the scale journey. Funders can support organizations on this front by being flexible with restrictions and ensuring organizations have adequate resources to support the ample capacity and time needed to scale.
  3. Scaling proven solutions can often be more valuable to your community than designing unique programs from scratch. Organizations often think that the only way to provide value is to create unique programs for their communities, when, in fact, capitalizing on existing great ideas and adapting them to fit your community is often a far more effective and efficient way to generate impact. Funders are in a unique position to have a broad view of different programs happening far apart and can make introductions that lead to collaboration and use of existing programs.
  4. People who create programs may not always be the right people to scale them. The skills and strengths needed to create great programs aren’t the same skills and strengths needed to scale. Scaling requires empathizing with the leaders and individuals that adapt a given program in their own community and preparing sufficient initial and ongoing support to aid their adaptation. The Funder Collaborative has seen that many scaling initiatives need support from partners who can help build the structures, resources, and support for leaders and individuals that take on and adapt the program. Funders need to invest in building the capacity of organizational leaders to design effective, intentional scale plans, and iteratively validate these plans in the real world.”  

From its inception, the Funder Collaborative was dedicated to sharing program results and, eventually, proven models of effective engagement with other organizations. By using its considerable resources to develop, implement, and evaluate meaningful programming, the Funder Collaborative has and will continue to empower other organizations that might not have the means to take the risks involved in new programming.

With support from the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Funder Collaborative continues to work with Spring Impact to help effective teen engagement initiatives impact more lives. Our work together involves identifying programs ready for adaptation, answering key questions that would determine new community selection criteria, systemizing and codifying the processes that support program success, and coaching new communities through the launch of these programs.

Whether an organization is at the stage of understanding the criteria necessary to adapt to new environments, or testing out new methods of implementation, the Funder Collaborative helps to break down the barriers to scaling by identifying and providing key resources. The Funder Collaborative identifies the key ideas in an organization’s programming, evaluates how to best replicate or adapt programs, assists new communities in absorbing and implementing new ideas, helps match organizations with populations in need, and empowers organizations to self-evaluate and best understand scaling methodologies.

Philanthropy must be able to identify proven models of engagement and plan strategically to scale them when possible. Now more than ever, community leaders should know how to help smaller and medium-sized communities take on proven new initiatives in sustainable and cost-effective ways.

Additional Resources

Methodology to Extend Impact: Email [email protected] to receive our step-by-step toolkit that helps Jewish programs effectively and sustainably extend their impact to new organizations and communities.

The impact of Jewish experiences on teens can be measured using the Teen Jewish Learning and Engagement Scales (TJLES), which formed the basis of a major national research project on Jewish teen engagement.  Anyone can freely access the Teen and other validated measurement tools by contacting FC Director Sara Allen at [email protected].

Dan Berelowitz (he/him) is CEO and Founder, Spring Impact.

Sara Allen (she/her) is Executive Director of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative

originally published in Grantcraft

New Research on High Holiday Participation Illuminates Critical Themes for Future Design

Jewish communities are constantly changing, and in the U.S. we have had a few decades of creative entrepreneurship to build on during the pandemic.

Among the many ways that the pandemic profoundly changed Jewish engagement, the High Holidays of 2020 stands out as a particularly fascinating case study. It was a kind of controlled experiment; essentially no one was able to celebrate or observe the holidays in the ways they were used to, so everyone was doing something different than usual. Institutions of all kinds innovated to adapt to the restrictions, and new ways of engaging emerged and spread more broadly than could have been previously imagined.

In an effort to understand the ways in which people’s engagement with the High Holidays changed during this past year, and what it might reveal about Jewish engagement more broadly, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Jim Joseph Foundation and Aviv Foundation funded research through the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund (JCRIF) to illuminate new patterns of participation and motivations. In the winter of 2020-2021, Benenson Strategy Group surveyed 1,414 American Jews nationwide about their experiences of the High Holidays and the ways that those experiences compared to previous years. The research explored not only what people did in 2020, but also compared it to what they had been doing before and explored what they might do in the future. The results provide important insights that have meaningful design implications not only for the upcoming High Holidays, but also for engagement efforts much more broadly.

Infrequent vs. Regular High Holiday Observers 

One of the most interesting findings focuses on those who are less consistent or comprehensive in their participation in a typical year (for example, participating sporadically or only in one of the holidays). This group, Infrequent High Holidays Observers, clearly have interest in participating in the High Holidays, but choose to not participate some of the time. This year, not only did they participate at high rates, they also had markedly different patterns of participation and motivations when compared to Regular Observers, who generally participate in both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (and who this year largely tried to get as close as possible to “normal”). We want to highlight the findings about the Infrequent Observers as they have important implications beyond the pandemic.  (A link to the full research report is available below.)

Remarkably, approximately half of the Infrequent Observers participated in High Holidays this year, when it would have been very easy to opt out. Furthermore, they were more likely than Regular Observers to report sharing their High Holidays experiences with others in their lives, more likely to be considering new ways to engage in the future, and they are looking differently at what Jewishness means to them. There are three major lessons from these positive experiences that can serve as building blocks as we plan for the future:

  1. Lowering Real and Perceived Barriers to Entry. A large segment of Infrequent Observers (47%) reported that “it was easy and straightforward” as a major motivation for participating this past year, more than any other single reason. By dissolving real and perceived barriers to participation, those who were previously opting out of the High Holidays some of the time leaned in this year. It behooves us to understand what people really mean by “easy and straightforward.” For example: less social anxiety or insecurity about Jewish or Hebrew knowledge, less intimidation about hours of commitment sitting in a pew, no stress about managing fidgety kids, and/or less confusion about if or how to include a partner who isn’t Jewish. Yes, cost and geography also fell away this year, but so did many other factors that have been getting in the way for many people. These lessons can be front of mind even as we design for in-person or hybrid experiences. When these real and perceived barriers fell to (almost) zero, those who are sometimes hesitant to commit their time and attention leaned in.
  1. Relationships were a major motivator for the Infrequent Observers, with 42% citing recommendations from friends or family members and 41% citing the desire to connect with “other people like me” as key reasons for participation. It was through relationships that Infrequent Observers found unprecedented access to high-quality experiences, a plethora of niche ways to participate that they may not have known about or had access to, and the ability to authentically celebrate with non-local family and friends. Not only did they learn about opportunities from friends and family, they were also more likely than Regular Observers to share their experiences afterward: 35% of them reported that they told someone in their life about their High Holidays experiences and 25% posted on social media about their experiences, creating a virtuous cycle to engage more of their networks in additional High Holiday programming. Those designing for future High Holidays may want to consider inviting their participants to extend invitations to their friends and family to catalyze even more of this peer-to-peer engagement.
  1. A Diverse Marketplace of Options. Infrequent Observers sought out a wide variety of ways to participate in the High Holidays, ranging from traditional rituals and services to mindfulness practice, volunteer or philanthropic activities, and informal celebrations with loved ones. Over 75% reported that they’d consider doing some or all of the experiences they did this year again, and 78% reported that they would consider or definitely try new ways to observe Jewish holidays in the future. These surprisingly high numbers indicate that the new levels of accessibility and exposure to creative options for engaging with the holidays supported positive, meaningful experiences that will continue to pay dividends for participants, their families and friends in the future.

Implications for Design

Because these past High Holidays required nearly everyone to reengineer their experiences, they offered a controlled experiment to test new attributes of design and accessibility. Many of the insights this data offers are not radically new. Rather, the data validates theories and design criteria that have been widely known in other fields for years, confirming that these design principles are important for Jewish leaders and educators too. These include:

  1. People are looking for a “just right fit,” not a “one size fits all” approach. The wide range of accessible, specific options, spread via recommendations through personal networks, helped people discover the plethora of interesting, nuanced programming and communities available across the Jewish world. People could be more confident and motivated to lean into these experiences, recommend them to others, and come back for more. There was no specific modality that was universally more attractive than any other. Depending on the individual, an ideal experience might have been a highly-produced event or a very intimate gathering, a group to meditate with, or a Rosh Hashanah cooking class (i.e. we couldn’t rely on the family brisket this year, but we could learn to make it ourselves).
  1. The “just right fit” is as much about the people as the content. Marketing expert Seth Godin says the bottom line of belonging is being able to say, “people like us do things like this.” Peer-to-peer recommendations and opportunities that are specific enough for a casual seeker to think “Ah! That’s where I belong!” can draw in those who are “looking for their people,” whether they slice that by life stage, creative ritual or specific areas of interest. This year, people who “found their people” actively recommended experiences and communities to others, and we saw many Infrequent Observers in turn share their experiences, too. Designing for “fit” matters.
  1. This year participants felt there was a diversity of valid ways to mark the holidays, beyond sitting in an hours-long service. The recent Pew data reinforces this, noting the diverse ways people engage in being Jewish (55% of those who don’t attend services often said it’s because they express their Jewishness in other ways, and of those, 77% engage through Jewish food, 74% by sharing Jewish culture or holidays with non-Jewish friends). Whereas in the past some Infrequent Observers may have perceived a binary choice (go to services or do nothing), this year they leaned into a wide range of options.

Embracing Productive Disruption

Nearly every industry in our economy has faced major disruption in the past few decades. While Encyclopedia Britannica was the gold standard of knowledge management for hundreds of years, the Wikipedia model disrupted it in the blink of an eye. Disruption is often a catalyst for a kind of systemic change that is hard to adopt voluntarily when you believe that the status quo is acceptable.

Jewish communities are constantly changing, and in the U.S. we have had a few decades of creative entrepreneurship to build on during the pandemic. But the pandemic affected everyone: it was a disruption that forced us all to design differently. In doing so, we were able to test theories and learn from the data. Now our challenge is to integrate these bold lessons into our future design, rather than returning passively to the comfortable (but not optimized) status quo. Listening empathetically and attentively to the feelings, attitudes, motivations and behaviors of Infrequent Observers will help us design effectively for greater engagement in the future.

It is hugely encouraging that half of those who haven’t been regularly participating in High Holidays are in fact seeking meaningful, well-calibrated experiences. It’s even more exciting that the vast majority of those who did participate this year want to do more, and that they are recommending their experiences to their friends. Many of these insights are also likely to apply to a subset of Regular Observers who may have the activation energy to participate every year, but for whom their experiences aren’t as positive. Let’s use this opportunity to build on this positive feedback loop.

These insights about Infrequent Observers are just one of many lessons that can be gleaned from this research effort. Curious to dive in further to the data report? The research is available at Collecting These Times: American Jewish experiences of the Pandemic.

Lisa Colton is the president of Darim Online, and a consultant working on this research and its implications. Tobin Marcus is a senior vice president at Benenson Strategy Group, which conducted the research. Felicia Herman is the director of the JCRIF Aligned Grant Program

Source: eJewish Philanthropy

Researchers Arrive at a First-Ever Estimate of Jewish Educators

There were more than 72,000 Jewish educators working in the United States in 2019, according to a new study from the Collaborative for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE) that aims to better understand and support the Jewish educational workforce.

“Any mature and specific field needs a knowledge base for policy makers and funders to make decisions, respond to needs and take advantage of opportunities,” said Stacie Cherner, director of learning and evaluation at the Jim Joseph Foundation, which funded the research for the report, along with the William Davidson Foundation. The study’s authors and backers say this research is the first of its kind.

Researchers have in the past studied Jewish day schools and yeshiva teachers, as in the Educators in Jewish Schools Study of 2006 by the Jewish Education Center of North America, said Arielle Levites, CASJE’s managing director.

This study uses a much broader definition of “educator”: Someone who educates or “engages” in a Jewish setting, regardless of the subject taught or whether the educator identifies as Jewish. This includes full-time, part-time and seasonal workers, but no pulpit rabbis, people who work solely in operations or administration or those who have a non-educational expertise, such as school psychologist or therapist.

The study counted educators not only in schools but also in camps, supplementary schools, preschools, youth groups, museums, adult education programs, college campus organizations, afterschool programs and family engagement or social justice organizations.

Engagement programs might include work with adults or families, and their inclusion reflects the researchers’ aspiration to look beyond formal school settings to include other educational experiences, such as those that happen at Moishe House, a global network of housing for young Jewish adults, or OneTable, which facilitates Shabbat meals, Levites said.

The census is the first of a series of papers exploring Jewish educators’ career trajectories, to be released starting in July, Levites said.

“The most important factor in a student’s success is the teacher,” she said. “We need to know how to support their development, how we recruit them, how we prepare them. All of that matters.”

The study found that in 2019, there were about 96,000 educator positions. The greater number of roles compared with educators does not indicate a shortage, but the fact that many educators fill multiple roles, such as a classroom teacher who also works in a summer camp, Levites said.

The researchers arrived at the census estimates both by gathering data from national organizations that maintain their own databases, like the Foundation for Jewish Camp, Hillel International and the Orthodox Union, and by surveying individual educational institutions. Of the large national organizations, 55% responded, while 33% of the institutions that filled out the survey responded.

CASJE and its research partner, the Greenberg Team, had originally planned to conduct the survey in March 2020 and to ask the educational institutions how many educators they were currently employing. Due to the pandemic, however, institutions were focusing on pivoting to remote learning, and leaders were unable to fill out the questionnaire. CASJE responded by both postponing the survey and scheduling a second, post-pandemic round. In June 2020, they distributed the first survey, asking respondents to tell them their 2019 employee counts. The second survey, which will be distributed starting next week, will request 2021 numbers.

“We don’t know the basic information,” said Chip Edelsberg, the Jim Joseph Foundation’s founding executive director, who consulted on the study. “We don’t know the numbers of educators, little or anything about the training, what motivates them to stay, what compels them to leave.”

Source: eJewish Philanthropy

Mentoring towards growth

Questions are the mentor’s super-tool

In the first act of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1.3.84 Folger), Polonius sends his son, Laertes off to school with a quick rat-tat-tat of paternal advice on fashion, finances and interpersonal relationships. He ends his loving speech with a mentoring doozy, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

In the first book of the Torah, after Adam and Eve disobey God by eating the fruit of Good and Evil and hide in the Garden of Eden, God seeks them out with this powerful mentoring question, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)

Polonius’ great wisdom was that one’s own guidance has to come from within – he could give his son advice but, in the end, Laertes’ own life’s compass is found in his own natural resourcefulness. The same is true with God’s powerful question to Adam and Eve: Medieval commentator Rashi writes, “God knew where Adam and Eve were, but God asked this question in order to open up a conversation,” (Rashi on Genesis 3:9). God wanted Adam and Eve to answer the question for themselves.

Being a great mentee starts with the premise that with enough reflection and remaining true to ourselves, which is far more easily said than done, we each will be able to locate ourselves in this world. Being a great mentor means serving as the guiding hand that supports a growth-based relationship, based not in fixing problems, but rather in opening up conversations. By “opening up the conversation,” mentees are invited to see where they are (point A) and imagine where they want to be (point B). Mentors help mentees get from point A (as defined by the mentee) to Point B (also defined by the mentee), often by helping mentees gain a broader perspective on themselves and their situation.

The Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Alumni Mentoring Program (created in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation) matches Jewish professionals with mentors for a year-long process to support their ongoing professional and personal growth. The mentoring relationship’s positive impact on both mentees and mentors is significant and serves as an important strategy for improving professionals’ leadership skills.

Now in its eighth year, we have gleaned some wisdom about the importance of Jewish professionals being true to themselves and knowing where they are at (and where they want to be) that we would like to briefly sample here.

For Mentees: Maintain a Growth Mindset 

Your mentoring experience will be helpful to you only if you really want to grow. Your mentor may give you pro tips along the way, but it is your job to use your mentor as a catalyst for your own reflection, growth and change. You are the one that needs to do the work. You need to come to each session prepared with an agenda and to ask for what you need – some days it will be gentle support and other days you will need constructive feedback. Sometimes your growth will entail facing some difficult truths about yourself as a professional. That’s okay – this work is hard and often woven into our souls. A mentor believes in the mentee’s inherent creativity and resourcefulness while encouraging them to go deeper and further in their leadership. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki says, “you…are perfect the way you are … and you can use a little improvement.” Singer/Songwriter of Jewish songs Dan Nichols uses this idea as commentary on the blessing for the body when he sings: “I’m perfect the way I am and a little broken too.” As an engaged mentee, you are responsible for your growth and improvement.

Since mentoring is about growth and change, it’s natural for you to use conversations with your mentor as a place to share frustrations and challenges. While having your mentor’s compassionate ear is a wonderful thing, to make the most of mentoring you really want to find pathways to action. When you find yourself complaining, Rae Ringel (co-creator of this mentoring program) suggests remembering that underneath every complaint is an unmade request. That is to say, when you are feeling disgruntled, instead of wallowing in the kvetch, work with your mentor to identify a clear, time-bound request that you can make. It will help you get what you want (or understand why you can’t) and allow your mentor to help you deepen your learning and forward your action. Focusing on requests, rather than complaints, will allow you to discover opportunities where you might previously have only seen challenges.

For Mentors: Prioritize being, doing and asking

For a satisfying and successful career, Cindy Chazan (the other co-creator of this mentoring program) recommends to Jewish professionals to “swap your to-do list with your to-be list.” This advice is not only beneficial for your mentee’s growth, but in your growth as a mentor. While your mentee is seeking you out (in part) due to your professional accomplishments, the success of the relationship will ultimately depend on how you show up and model that to your mentee. Strive to authentically and candidly model how you have been true to yourself, with all of the requisite difficult choices that has entailed, over the course of your career. This means sharing your accomplishments and your missteps, and what you learned from both. Your mentee will be impressed with your achievements but will be impacted by how you show up: with intention, candor and compassion.

On the other hand, just as leadership is an activity and not a position, mentoring is also an activity – it is about what you do with who you are. Sometimes people say that they had a mentor, but it wasn’t someone with whom they had an actual relationship that fostered growth. Instead, it was someone they admired, or looked to as a role model. When we think about mentoring as an activity, we focus on the verbs, not the nouns. That means that to mentor well, you don’t have to be an expert or a role model 100 percent of the time. But you do need to be real and intentional. The actions you take – the questions you ask, the listening you do, the new perspective you offer – are what make you a mentor.

Questions are the mentor’s super-tool, but it’s not because of the information mentors get from the answers. The questions’ power resides in the transformation, clarity or commitment that the mentee experiences when considering and answering the question; it’s not about what you (the mentor) need to know, but about what the mentee needs to learn. Coaching pioneer Henry Kimsey-House writes, “Powerful questions invite introspection, present additional solutions, and lead to greater creativity and insight.” Asking powerful questions requires deep listening and gives rise to new perspectives for the mentee – and honors their unique ability to be resourceful and creative.

Both Shakespeare and God really know how to turn a phrase. In just six words (“To thine own self be true,”) Polonius modeled the core of mentoring. God bested Shakespeare by doing it in only three words! (And only one word in Hebrew – “Ayekah?”). In “Where are you?” God asks a powerful question that undergirds Shakespeare’s advice. By asking this question, God opens an eternal mentoring conversation – one that can inspire any mentoring relationship that we are lucky to be part of.

Dr. Michelle Lynn-Sachs is a leadership coach and organizational consultant with the practice she founded, Spotlight Consulting & Coaching, and she is chair of the Wexner Field Fellows and a co-coordinator of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program Alumni Mentoring Program.

Or Mars is a vice president of The Wexner Foundation and a co-coordinator of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program Alumni Mentoring Program.

Source: eJewish Philanthropy

Here are the first 10 Jewish documentaries funded through Jewish Story Partners

The Jewish Story Partners foundation, which Steven Spielberg and wife Kate Capshaw helped found to fund Jewish-themed documentary films, announced its first slate of grantees on Wednesday.

The 10 projects received a total of $225,000 from Jewish Story Partners, which has received its initial funding from Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation, the Maimonides Fund and the Jim Joseph Foundation.

Here are the films, first reported by Deadline:

“Coexistence My Ass!” – Directed by Amber Fares

The film follows Israeli comedian Noam Schuster, who is bent on using her standup routine to get Israelis to question their biases.

“The Conspiracy” – Directed by Maxim Pozdorovkin

The film looks at the history behind the lie “that a dangerous cabal of powerful Jews controls the world.”

“Meredith Monk: Dancing Voice, Singing Body” – Directed by Billy Shebar and David Roberts

The groundbreaking composer and choreographer, who has won the National Medal of Arts and a MacArthur grant, gets her own film. The pop legend Bjork is a co-producer.

“Rabbi” – Directed by Sandi DuBowski

“Rabbi” chronicles the story of pioneering Rabbi Amichau Lau-Lavie “from drag queen rebel to rabbinical student to founder of Lab/Shul, an everybody-friendly, God-optional, artist-driven, pop-up experimental congregation.”

“South Commons” – Directed by Joey Soloway

The Jewish creator of “Transparent” takes a hard look at the racial tensions in the Chicago community in which they grew up.

“Untitled Spiritual Care Documentary” – Directed by Luke Lorentzen

Mount Sinai hospitals in New York appoint interfaith chaplain residents each year — this film follows four of them.

“The Wild One” – Directed by Tessa Louise Salomé

It’s the story of Jack Garfein, an Auschwitz survivor who went on to play a key role in the Actors’ Studio group and taught the craft to some of the last century’s biggest stars.

“Heroes” – Directed by Avishai Mekonen and Shari Rothfarb Mekonen

The tale of a group of Ethiopian-Jewish activists who fought to keep their community alive in the 1970s to 1990s, a time of harsh dictatorship.

“Joyva” – Directed by Josh Freund and Sam Radutzky

The 100-plus-year-old Joyva company is among the most recognized Jewish-American candy companies, whose delicacies often end up at holiday celebrations such as Passover. The film focuses on the founder’s great-grandchildren, who are fighting to keep the business afloat.

“Walk With Me” – Directed by Heidi Levitt

Levitt tracks her husband’s battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Source: JTA

Coronavirus: New initiative preserves history of Jewish life in pandemic

The web portal currently connects users to around 70 collecting projects. However, the list of collections will expand as the project goes larger.

A new web portal has been launched to help American Jews and Jewish institutions gather and preserve materials on Jewish life during the coronavirus pandemic.

Called “Collecting These Times: American Jewish Experiences of the Pandemic,” the portal was developed by George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, in partnership with the Berman Museum, Hebrew Theological College, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Capital Jewish Museum, Council of American Jewish Museums and Prizma: Center for Jewish Day Schools.

Users are able to find and contribute papers, images, videos, documents, oral accounts and audio recordings to various institutions across the US, with the collection being curated to show everything from schools and summer camps to Jewish ritual practices and businesses in various communities.

It currently connects users to around 70 collecting projects. However, the list of collections will expand as the project goes larger.

The site can be accessed in its entirety at no cost, with funding coming from the Chronicling Funder Collaborative, which supports efforts to document Jewish experiences in the pandemic.

“Collecting These Times is accessible to anyone who wants to share their experiences or better understand how Jewish life in the US has changed over the past year,” Roy Rosenzweig Center’s Jessica Mack said in a statement.

“We have much to learn about how individuals, families and communities have used creativity and tenacity to reimagine so many Jewish experiences during the pandemic, and we hope that the site will be an educational resource both now and in the future,” she said. “The collections will continue to grow as more people contribute content and tell their stories.”

“The website represents an extraordinary confluence of interest and determination by everyone involved,” Hebrew Theological College chief academic officer Zev Eleff said. “Our shared aim is to democratize our knowledge and wisdom of the current pandemic to deepen learning and scholarship on contemporary Jewish life.”

The portal can be accessed at

But the web portal is not the only significant historical effort made to preserve and document Jewish life during the pandemic.

In April 2020, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research launched a similar initiative to gather and compile stories of Jewish life amid COVID-19. It primarily focuses on first-hand accounts on how Jewish life has changed due to the pandemic.

YIVO is a leading organization in the field of studying, preserving and teaching Jewish history, and has the world’s single largest collection of Yiddish-language works. It is also one of the five institutions that make up the Center for Jewish History, which itself is affiliated with the Smithsonian and has the biggest collection of records and archival works of Jewish history in the US.

Source: Jerusalem Post

JCRIF Announces Second Year of Grantmaking, Including New Reset Grants

The core funders of the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund (JCRIF)’s Aligned Grant Program—Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Jim Joseph Foundation, Maimonides Fund, and The Paul E. Singer Foundation—are today announcing that they are launching a second round of JCRIF grantmaking for 2021, and that the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation, a partner on the JCRIF Loan Program, will also be joining the Grant Program.

A major piece of JCRIF’s 2021 efforts will be its new RESET Grants, which will support efforts to seize this unique moment in history to reimagine, renew, and reset Jewish communities for the future. The funders are hereby issuing a Request for Proposals for those grants—seeking new ideas that look beyond current organizational boundaries, structures, missions, and program delivery mechanisms to envision a new future for Jewish communities in North America. Applicants can apply for up to $10 million of funding over 1-5 years for major new efforts to reset Jewish communal life. The JCRIF grant program will also continue to offer grants for emergency needs and for innovative adaptations to programs and organizational structures in response to the pandemic.

JCRIF’s second year of grantmaking will build on lessons learned in its first 8 months. The funders are also pleased to share JCRIF Lessons Learned 2020, a report written by Felicia Herman, Director of the JCRIF Aligned Grant Program. Grant funding to date has provided emergency support, fueled innovation and adaptation, and addressed some of the many systemic issues that have arisen from—or been accelerated by—the wholesale closure of Jewish institutions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund was created in April 2020 as a partnership of 8 major Jewish foundations and the Jewish Federations of North America to distribute more than $90 million in grants and no-interest loans to Jewish communal organizations meeting new challenges and opportunities posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information, please reach out to [email protected]

How the Jews of Color Initiative Is Funding Work for a More Inclusive Jewish Community

In recent years, Jewish communal leaders and philanthropists have come to recognize that the American Jewish community—widely presumed to be white-skinned and Ashkenazi (from Central and Eastern Europe)—is far more diverse than they imagined.

With the help of philanthropic partners, the Jews of Color Initiative, a Berkeley, California-based fund led by Executive Director Ilana Kaufman, is raising consciousness about underserved Jews of color and working to create a more inclusive and welcoming ecosystem in the organized American Jewish community.

Though Jews of color have been undercounted in Jewish population studies for decades, data from several reputable studies point to the fact that Jews of color represent at least 12 to 15% of the American Jewish population. That percentage does not include Jews of Sephardic (Spanish and Portuguese) and Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) ancestry—and it is growing.

Yet the majority of Jews of color, aren’t showing up in synagogues, Jewish community centers or religious schools. One reason for their absence is that they don’t feel welcome, says Kaufman, whose organization is committed to building and advancing the professional, organizational and communal field for Jews of color.

“As the Jews of Color Initiative was being founded, we heard from Jewish community members of color, our families and friends, that often when attending services and community programs, they might be racially profiled,” says Kaufman. “Sometimes when freshening up in the restroom, they might be asked to change an empty paper towel dispenser; when picking up a daughter from religious school, they might be assumed to be the nanny; when attending a program in a community space, be asked if they need help or if they know someone in the community or why they are there that evening,” says Kaufman. “Each example is an expression of racism that is seen and heard.”

Such blatant instances of racism, adds Kaufman, occur in addition to more subtle examples, such as “looks of wonder; the pervasive use of language and customs that exclude Jews who are neither Ashkenazi or white; the resistance, on the part of some, to come to terms with and deeply understand the impact of racism and white supremacy in the United States, including in our Jewish communities.”

In 2017, Kaufman was part of a group of 12 Black Jews invited to the Leichtag Foundation to discuss issues around racial justice. “It was a sincere, curious and sometimes awkward conversation with a group of funders and colleagues coming together in the very heightened racial climate [during] 2016,” recalls Kaufman. “It was hard, because race is hard and talking about race and racism is hard.”

Yet the group persevered, with white funders and colleagues asking questions expressing concern about the experiences of Jews of color and seeking information about what needed to change.

“There was clearly a need for funding and there was also some curiosity about to what extent creating a hub of some kind would benefit, not only Jews of color, but the whole Jewish community,” Kaufman says.

After two days of discussion and soul searching, the Jews of Color Field Building Fund was created. Kaufman, who was then working as a public affairs and civic engagement director for the Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council, came aboard as a contract program officer for the pilot fund, which started with just $60,000. The fund was held at the Coastal Community Foundation in San Diego and was supported by the Leichtag Foundation. The Jim Joseph Foundation and Walter and Elise Haas Fund soon joined the effort.

“We ended up with $160,000 and we gave away $110,000 in grantmaking that first year,” says Kaufman. “Fast-forward three years, and our name has gotten shorter and our budget has gotten larger.”

The JoCI’s fundraising goal for 2020-2021 was $450,000, but due to funders’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on people of color, Kaufman now expects to raise $828,000 this year.

In addition to the Leichtag and Jim Joseph foundations and the Haas Fund, the JoCI is currently supported by prominent philanthropies, including the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and the Rodan Family Foundation.

This year’s grantees include Hillel International, Avodah, Reconstructing Judaism and the Union for Reform Judaism.

“The Jews of Color Initiative’s grantmaking is limited to field building,” says Kaufman. “We’re informed by the Bridgespan Group’s field-building guide and we focus on resourcing, leadership development, establishing best practices, policy, identity and research.” Research, says Kaufman, is especially important, since most white Jews know so little about Jews of color.

“Every time I would go present about Jews of color, I would have a conversation and someone would ask, ‘Yeah, but how many Jews of color are there really?’ So, then I thought, OK, we have to go out and do research.”

The JoCI’s first demographic study, “Counting Inconsistencies: An Analysis of American Jewish Population Studies, with a Focus on Jews of Color,” was funded by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and released in 2019. The study discovered significant irregularities in the ways previous demographic studies were conducted, which made it difficult to gain a full understanding of how many Jews of color actually live in the U.S. For example, many Jewish population studies failed to include questions about race or ethnicity.

Based on these inconsistencies, the researchers recommended that future Jewish population studies “adopt better and more consistent practices for sampling populations, weighting responses, and formulating more comprehensive and sensitively worded questions.”

In January 2021, the JoCI commenced the  “Count Me In” survey, which asks Jews of color to share experiences and perspectives on Jewish identity, systemic racism, and their aspirations for the Jewish  community. The JoCI hopes that the survey, which will close on Feb. 19 and be released in July, will garner 1,000 responses.

Strengthening the local Jewish community in the San Francisco Bay area for future generations is a funding priority for the Rodan Family Foundation, which was established approximately two years ago. Elana Rodan Schuldt, the foundation’s president and CEO, says that initially, the foundation wasn’t sure what that goal would mean.

“Frankly, I was thinking about my kids, and my peers’ kids, and what are they coming of age with and how will Judaism be relevant for them,” says Rodan Schuldt.

“We wanted to be very objective, so we looked at all the available data and were able to talk to most local organizations and leaders. What was glaringly obvious to us is that there’s a mismatch between who our Jewish community is from a demographic perspective and what the demographics of organizational Jewish life looks like.”

Considering trends such as intermarriage and the lifestyles of modern Jewish families, says Rodan Schuldt, “we felt it was imperative to start reaching people not showing up in our community, especially Jews of color, and bringing Jewish life to them.”

Rodan Schuldt hopes the Rodan Foundation’s support of the JoCI will “strengthen the field of practitioners and organizations supporting Jews of color and help current Jewish institutions and organizations to do that hard work of readying themselves to be places where Jews of color can thrive and want to show up.” She also hopes the Rodan Foundation’s investment in the JoCI “will catalyze other funders to prioritize this and start putting their dollars to it.”

The Jim Joseph Foundation has done just that. Jon Marker, senior program officer for the Jim Joseph Foundation, says they support the JoCI because of a recognition that “the dominant narrative of who Jews are in the United States, and who our institutions are made of, center around European ‘Ashkenormative’ Jewish experience, which is limited and does not encompass all the places where Jews come from.”

The narrative “doesn’t encompass the nuance and richness and memory that exists in multiracial and multiethnic families that have existed for generations,” says Marker. “If our goal is to focus on helping young Jews to find meaning and purpose through Jewish wisdom, we need to recognize that a purely Ashkenazic narrative is not going to resonate with everyone and it’s not going to speak to the complexity and richness and resilience of our narrative.”

Both Rodan Schuldt and Marker agree that partnering with the JoCI makes their work especially rewarding. “First and foremost,” says Marker, “it’s a tremendous joy to work with Ilana [Kaufman] and the team she’s assembled. They’re incredibly strong leaders who bring a rich wisdom and lived experience within the American Jewish community. They also bring a skillset for nonprofit management and how to grow a field and ecosystem that is important, not because they are Jews of color, but because they are talented leaders.”

Kaufman does her best to ensure that the grant application process is relatively painless. “We try to do grantmaking in ways that are excellent, low barrier, low labor, low panic and low stress because it just makes for a much better experience,” says Kaufman, who awards grants throughout the year.

“We’re here to support [communities and nonprofit leaders] but it’s not about us,” Kaufman says. “We’re just facilitators, we’re a pathway.… This is about the community becoming its next version of its best self.”

Source: “How the Jews of Color Initiative Is Funding Work for a More Inclusive Jewish Community,” Simone Ellin, Inside Philanthropy, January 28, 2021