As 3,000 Jewish teens gather in Atlanta, funders urge more support for programs

JTA-logoATLANTA (JTA) — Over 3,000 teenagers from multiple Jewish youth groups gathered in Atlanta for a series of events aimed at strengthening Jewish identity among teens and rallying philanthropic support for such programs.

The main attractions were the annual conventions of BBYO and NFTY, which were held for several days in adjoining hotels and featured some joint programming. Prior to the start of the two conventions, dozens of teen leaders from BBYO, NFTY and several other youth groups met to resurrect the Coalition of Jewish Teens.

Also, prior to the conventions, about 250 people took part last week in the Summit on Jewish Teens, a gathering of foundations, federations and individual funders.

Last week, on the eve of the gatherings, four major supporters of BBYO — the Jim Joseph, Schusterman, Marcus and Singer foundations — published an opinion piece explaining their goals for the gathering and calling on other funders to join them in supporting youth groups and other teen initiatives.

“The good news is that study after study proves that when young people are involved in meaningful Jewish experiences during their teenage years, they are much more likely to be active, lifelong members of the Jewish community,” the foundations wrote in their opinion piece, which was published by eJewishphilanthropy. “The bad news is that as far as we have come, we still have a long way to go before we fully address the disturbing fact that in most communities, an estimated 80 percent of Jewish teens drop out of Jewish life after their b’nai mitzvah.”

The four foundations urged funders to work together. Teen leaders, meanwhile, issued their own call for collaboration, playing up their desire to find ways for the various Jewish youth groups to work together on social action projects and other initiatives.

Organizers of the various events stressed the idea that the most effective way to attract teens is to offer them opportunities to design and run their own programs.

Several organizers also said that there was a strong need to instill teens with a deeper appreciation and understanding of Israel before they head to college and find themselves in the middle of highly charged debates about the Middle East.

Source: “As 3,000 Jewish teens gather in Atlanta, funders urge more support for programs,” JTA, February 17, 2015

Day School Endowments In L.A.

The Jewish WeekGeorge Rohr’s op-ed provides us with a salient and powerful message: Day
schools help ensure a vibrant Jewish future (“Tackling The Day School Affordability Crisis,” Education Supplement, Jan. 30). And in order for day schools to
 survive and thrive, they need long-term viable income streams. Investing in 
and building endowments for day schools addresses that critical need. Over the past several years, Los Angeles has also been investing in day
school endowments.

A lead gift commitment by the Lainer family in 2007 
initiated development of the Simha and Sara Lainer Day School Endowment Fund,
a 1:4 match to incentivize schools to build endowments. In 2009, in
partnership with BJE-Los Angeles and the Jewish Federation, the Jim Joseph
Foundation provided a generous grant (The Los Angeles High School
 Affordability Initiative) that provided resources for coaching and training,
 built schools’ development infrastructure, created a culture of giving, and
provided middle-income tuition assistance while the high schools raised 
endowments to sustain these tuition grants.

Over the past six years, at the participating high schools, fundraising culture 
changed dramatically, as existing donors were educated and new donors were
brought on board.
 To date, the five participating high schools have collectively raised nearly
$17 million for endowment, matched by an additional $4.25 million from the
 Lainer fund. More importantly, each school now has a growing endowment that 
will generate distributions for tuition assistance beyond the grant period.

And endowment has caught on in a big way in Los Angeles. To date, 12
elementary/middle schools have participated in the Generations project,
sponsored by PEJE and The AVI CHAI Foundation, and have collectively raised 
over $10.5 million, with a new cohort of schools scheduled to begin later this
 year. Are the schools done? Of course not. As Mr. Rohr points out, it is
critical that endowments continue to expand and grow to meet the needs of 
future families and students.

The two programs in L.A. are models for other communities and BJE, with the 
support of the Jim Joseph Foundation, has created a website,, where donors, schools, and communities 
interested in undertaking endowment development can obtain detailed
 information on what we have learned and how to implement similar initiatives
in their own school or community.

$9.2 million initiative aims to expand Jewish summer options for teens

JTA-logoNEW YORK (JTA) — A new $9.2 million initiative will attempt to expand and improve Jewish summer programming for New York-area teens.

The New York Teen Initiative for Immersive Summer Experiences for Jewish Teens, a project of New York’s Jewish Education Project, through an incubator project will help launch eight programs this summer that are designed to match specific interests and needs of Jewish teens.

The eight programs include local options, like a Jewish surf camp and a theater program, as well as travel and community service opportunities, including ones in Panama and Memphis, Tenn. One program is specifically for Russian Jewish teens, while another is an Israel tour designed for teens from interfaith families. The programs also will focus on connecting participants to year-round Jewish learning opportunities.

“Summer is a great time to engage teens in Jewish experiences,” Robert Sherman, CEO of The Jewish Education Project, said in a news release.

The initiative, jointly funded by UJA-Federation of New York and the Jim Joseph Foundation, is providing financial support, personalized coaching, marketing assistance and educational workshops, as well as a series of interactive educational workshops, to the eight programs.

The goals of the initiative include increasing the number of teens participating in accessible, affordable and inspiring Jewish summer experiences, and expanding the pool of available scholarship dollars for such programs. In addition to serving the eight programs in its incubator, the initiative also plans to provide professional development opportunities for other Jewish summer program providers in New York.

The new initiative will also fund a limited number of “innovative and emerging” summer programs, including a special needs track on the Ramah Israel Seminar and an arts program called Pop Up NY.

Source: “$9.2 million initiative aims to expand summer options for teens,” JTA, February 10, 2015

With launch of four new camps, specialty sector is booming

JTA-logoNEW YORK (JTA) — When his new camp opened last summer, Greg Kellner suspected he needed a morning ritual different from the traditional flagpole gathering at many Jewish overnight camps.

Kellner, the director of URJ Six Points Sci-Tech Academy in Byfield, Mass., a Jewish science-themed camp in the Reform movement’s network, knew his campers were more interested in science than singing, so he devised what he calls the “Boker [Hebrew for “morning”] Big Bang.”

“Instead of singing a closing song [at the flagpole], we – well, we blow something up,” Kellner said.

That “something,” whether it is dry ice or a different element of a chemical reaction, is of course part of a controlled scientific experiment.

Six Points Sci-Tech Academy, which focuses on science and technology, is one of four new camps developed under the auspices of the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Specialty Camp Incubator II, a program to help launch and grow new Jewish camps focused on particular themes.

The four – the others are JCC Maccabi Sports Camp, Camp Zeke (a health and fitness camp) and Camp Inc. (an entrepreneurship camp) – opened last summer, four years after the FJC’s first incubator launched five specialty camps, including ones focused on sports, environmentalism and outdoor adventures.

Morning prayer services at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy before the camp’s “Boker Big Bang,” summer 2014. (Courtesy of URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy)

The thinking behind the incubator, which provides financial resources, mentoring and other support, is to encourage kids and teenagers, particularly those with special interests they could not have explored previously at a Jewish camp, to have a Jewish summer experience.

Early on, the new camps have been a success, with all but one (JCC Maccabi Sports Camp, which had a modest shortfall) meeting – and several exceeding – their goals for enrollment and camper retention. The new camps have also inspired several established Jewish camps to add specialty tracks and programs. For example, the New Jersey Y network of camps now offers multiple specialty tracks in the arts, science and sports, among them filmmaking, lacrosse and physics. Camp Ramah in the Poconos now has basketball and tennis “academies.”

The specialty camps have succeeded in recruiting people who might not otherwise consider Jewish camp: Of the more than 4,000 campers who have attended the FJC incubators’ nine specialty camps since 2010, half said it was their first Jewish overnight camp experience.

Comprehensive data on the second set of specialty camps has not yet been released, but the early numbers are promising: 520 campers enrolled in the four new camps last summer. Enrollment at the first five specialty camps, which launched with a total of 590 campers, has grown steadily, with 1,575 campers attending in 2014.

The second round of specialty camps benefited from lessons learned the first time around, said Michele Friedman, the FJC’s director of new camp initiatives, who noted that the first incubator was an “experiment.”

This time, camp directors addressed their business operations – from fundraising to building their boards – early in the process. While many non-Orthodox Jewish educational programs have trouble recruiting boys, two of the new specialty camps had the opposite problem.

At Six Points Sci-Tech, Kellner’s biggest obstacle was recruiting girls, which he said is also a struggle for most secular science camps. Of the 160 campers, only 27 were girls.

However, 40 girls have already signed up for this summer, and it is still early in the registration process.

Josh Pierce, the director of Camp Inc. in Boulder, Colo., had similar trouble. He estimated that only 30 percent of his 85 campers were girls, but he pointed out that next year’s group will be closer to 40 percent female.

Camp Inc. is structured to culminate in a “Shark Tank”-like presentation: Last summer’s campers formed teams, worked on an idea for a business and then presented their plan to a panel of professional entrepreneur judges. The judges included “Punkass,” a founder of the popular Tapout clothing line.

Also, Camp Inc. attendees visited 16 local companies, including Google’s office in Boulder, and heard lectures from 59 guest entrepreneurs.

Directors of the new specialty camps say they plan to expand their offerings this summer in response to camper requests.

Isaac Mamaysky of Camp Zeke said the camp will offer more frequent cooking classes and longer fitness electives.

“At a new camp, nothing ‘just kind of happens,’” Mamaysky said. “You have to make it happen.”

Source: “With launch of 4 new camps, specialty sector is booming,” Gabe Friedman, JTA, January 16, 2015

Jewish Farmers Gather to Advance Field of Jewish Community Farming

E-Jewish-philanthropyFor the first time in decades, Jewish farmers from all over North America and Israel will be convening at the Leichtag Foundation property in Encinitas today through Tuesday to share best practices and discuss emerging opportunities in the growing field of Jewish community farming.

“The Jewish people are historically farmers” said Leichtag Foundation CEO Jim Farley. “This gathering demonstrates that a new Jewish farming movement is thriving.”

Farmers prepare a ‘soil sock’ farm at the Leichtag Foundation farm; photo courtesy of Joshua Sherman.

Farmers prepare a ‘soil sock’ farm at the Leichtag Foundation farm; photo courtesy of Joshua Sherman.

This convening, known as the Jewish Community Farmer Advisory Committee, comes on the heels of the Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education (JOFEE) report, released in March 2014, which indicated a growing movement of Jewish experiences centered around outdoor, food, and environmental education.

Nearly 30 individuals representing 15 organizations will be in attendance. Notable organizations include Hazon (CT), Eden Village (NY), Ekar (CO), Boulder JCC (CO), Pearlstone Center (MD), Jewish Farm School (PA), Urban Adamah (Berkeley, CA), Netiya (Los Angeles, CA), Shoresh (Canada), and Kaima Farm (Israel).

One of the featured presenters of the convening is the Jim Joseph Foundation, which is supportive of several organizations represented in the JOFEE report.

“Bringing together leaders of key organizations to share knowledge and to learn from experts is an important step in advancing and beginning to professionalize this emerging field,” said Chip Edelsberg, Executive Director of the Jim Joseph Foundation. “Our mission is to create new and dynamic Jewish learning opportunities, and JOFEE has evidenced significant potential in this area. Young adults in particular, as detailed in the JOFEE report, are attracted to these experiences as a way to engage in Jewish life and learning.”

There is a deep history of Jewish farming in North America. From 1880-1920, Jewish immigrants came to America and began farming. During this time, Jewish farming communities were developed with the support of the Baron de Hirsch Fund. The Jewish Agricultural Society in America formed in 1900 to support this movement. After World War II, agriculture changed and organized Jewish farming began to dissipate. This convening marks the rebirth of Jewish community farming.

“We see this as the beginning of many gatherings” said Daron “Farmer D” Joffe, Director of Agricultural Innovation for the Leichtag Foundation. “We want to help advance the field by being a place to gather and learn.”

The Leichtag Foundation purchased the former Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, CA in December 2012; it is a 67.5 acre property that amplifies the strategic focus areas of the Foundation and is a nexus to bring them all together.

Source: Jewish Farmers Gather to Advance Field of Jewish Community Farming, eJewishPhilanthropy, January 25, 2015

Endowing Day Schools

The ForwardIn his op-ed, Rabbi Ari Segal portrays the quandary that most Jewish day schools, and especially Jewish high schools, find themselves in today in regard to their middle-income families (“The 1% Solution,” January 2). Tuition increases have well exceeded rises in wages, cost of living has increased greatly and middle-income families with multiple children in day school are simply not able to keep up.

Six years ago, with generous funding from the Jim Joseph Foundation, BJE and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles embarked on a unique project that targeted five Jewish high schools focused on the building of endowments. (After all, non-Jewish private schools have, for decades, been building endowments; why shouldn’t Jewish schools do the same?)

To date, the five schools have collectively raised more than $16 million (on their way to a goal of $17 million) for endowment; a foundation, the Simha & Sara Lainer Day School Endowment Fund, provided a 25% match, adding $4.25 million. Bottom line: By June, $21.25 million will have been raised, and more important, each school now has a growing endowment fund that will generate distributions for tuition assistance in perpetuity. Are the schools done? Of course not: Endowments must continue to expand and grow to meet the needs of the future.

While Segal’s proposal is an interesting one, Jewish day schools still need a reliable and predictable income stream each year in order to balance their yearly budget. This is a model for other communities to consider (New York in fact recently launched its own Day School Challenge Fund). An additional proposal to Segal’s might also be that families receiving subsidies are asked or encouraged to leave 1% of their estate to the day school’s endowment fund in their will — expressing their gratitude to the school by providing a legacy for future generations.

Arlene Agress
Director, Los Angeles High School Affordability Initiative

Itamar Harari
Director, Center for Excellence in Day School Education
Los Angeles

Source: “Endowing Day Schools,” The Forward, January 20, 2015