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

Documenting, Sharing, and Learning from Jewish Life During Pandemic

The Council of American Jewish Museums and George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media Receive Grants for Major Archiving Project Led by Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah

January 27, 2021 — The Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) and George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) are launching two new collecting initiatives with support from a group of Jewish funders, the Chronicling Funder Collaborative, to document diverse Jewish experiences of the pandemic. The Rosenzweig Center received a grant to create a web portal that will serve as a digital content hub reflecting Jewish life during this time. The grant to CAJM enables it to partner with 18 member institutions to lead a broad-based oral history collecting initiative.

The Funder Collaborative is composed of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, Jim Joseph Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, and The Russell Berrie Foundation.

The web portal, led by the Rosenzweig Center in collaboration with Hebrew Theological College (HTC), will coordinate, catalog, and share digital content from institutions chronicling life in American Jewish communities during the pandemic. This effort builds upon the American Jewish Life digital collection developed last year by RRCHNM in collaboration  with six Jewish partner organizations.

“Collectors, researchers, and teachers are synergizing their efforts,” explained Zev Eleff, chief academic officer of HTC. “We all understand that this is a pivotal teaching and learning moment, freighted with so much meaning for all kinds of students.”

Beginning in March 2021, individuals will be able to find relevant collections through the portal and easily contribute materials to a range of collecting institutions in different parts of the U.S.  Libraries, archives, researchers, educators, and others will be able to access all content at no cost and communicate and share content with each other.

“The Jewish community’s response to this historic moment warrants careful curating and documentation in one centralized location,” says Jessica Mack of George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. “Contrary to what many think, digital content does not last forever unless we make efforts to preserve it. With the Collaborative’s generous support, we will gather materials showing how the community adapted at this time—and share it in one accessible, central platform. Future Jewish community researchers and leaders will be able to learn about the rapid transformation of Jewish life during this time.”

CAJM’s oral history collecting campaign expands its efforts to record Jewish stories from the pandemic with its member museums.  For this new phase of grant-funded work, CAJM will partner with 18 collecting repositories across the country—from Los Angeles, Iowa, New York, Florida, and Portland, Oregon. The recording partners will utilize TheirStory—a web-based video interview platform that allows museums to record their communities’ personal accounts from their computers.  The TheirStory platform works in-tandem with Aviary, a cloud-based platform that enhances collection management and preservation functionality using cutting-edge features.

“For organizations that do the work of Jewish history, this is a defining chapter,”  says Melissa Martens Yaverbaum, Executive Director of the Council of American Jewish Museums. “The pandemic has rearranged many aspects of Jewish life—from the holidays to healthcare, mourning, milestones, the work of social justice, and the ways we create community.  Our grassroots efforts aim to reflect the breadth of the Jewish community and a myriad Jewish experiences from the pandemic era. In sharing personal stories, we’re laying the groundwork for a more inclusive future.”

Efforts to elevate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are integral to both the web portal and oral history collecting campaign. Both entities seek to engage populations that historically have not been included in this type of collecting and interpretation, lending valuable insights into very different Jewish pandemic experiences. Both projects will work with DEI consultants and an advisory board in approaching this work with an inclusive lens and strategy.

“Holding space for diversity, equity, and inclusion is essential to the work of both these projects,” says Aaron Dorfman of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah. “If we want these platforms to be truly useful to researchers and institutions in the future—and if we really want the community to learn from this moment—we must capture experiences representing the breadth of the Jewish community, particularly its often marginalized members.”

The Rosenzweig Center and CAJM will coordinate closely with each other as they develop both platforms.


Since 1994, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media has created websites and other digital media with the goal of democratizing history for scholarly, public, and educational audiences. RRCHNM brings together scholars, web developers and designers, and graduate and undergraduate students to accomplish that mission. In addition to democratizing history for the over two million people who visit its websites each year, RRCHNM is passionate about enabling the work of other institutions, especially through its ability to develop websites and software, host technical infrastructure, and manage projects and grants. RRCHNM is a research center at George Mason University, the largest public research university in Virginia and one of the most diverse universities in the United States.

The Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) is an association of institutions and individuals committed to enriching American and Jewish culture and enhancing the value of Jewish museums to their communities. It offers programs, networking, and learning opportunities to the Jewish-museum field, and highlights issues pertaining to the presentation and preservation of Jewish culture. It is the leading forum for Jewish museums in North America. 

The Wexner Foundation Announces Class 5 of Field Fellows

Jewish professionals will receive professional development and education in leadership and Judaic studies over the course of three years

The Wexner Foundation, in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation, is pleased to announce Class 5 of the Wexner Field Fellowship. In what was the most competitive pool to date and in the middle of a pandemic, no less, 15 outstanding professionals were selected for this three-year intensive program. Utilizing the diverse, cohort-based learning that is the hallmark of The Wexner Foundation programs, Field Fellows will be exposed to different approaches to leadership and tools for addressing pressing issues in the Jewish community, while being integrated into The Wexner Foundation’s vast network of more than 3,000 professional and volunteer leaders in North America and Israel, including the 45 outstanding professionals who are currently in the Field Fellowship Program, as well as 40 Alumni.

Complete list of Class 5 Fellows:

  • Benjamin Berger, Vice President for Jewish Education, Hillel International, Washington, DC
  • Aaron Cantor, Camp Director, Emma Kaufmann Camp, Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Amy Cohen, Chief Social Services Officer, JFS Executive Director, Shalom Austin, Austin, TX
  • Carrie Darsky, Vice President of Talent Acquisition, Hillel International, Washington, DC
  • Yoni Fein, Head of School, Brauser Maimonides Academy, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  • Rachel Gottfried-Clancy, Executive Director, Jewish Youth for Community Action, Oakland, CA
  • Shira Hutt, Chief of Staff, Jewish Federation of North America, New York, NY
  • Steven Ingber, Chief Operating Officer, Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit, Bloomfield Hills, MI
  • Nate Looney, Manager of Racial Justice Initiatives, Avodah, New York, NY
  • Analucía Lopezrevoredo, Senior Director, Project Shamash, Bend the Arc, San Francisco, CA
  • Danielle Natelson, Design Strategist, UpStart, Los Angeles, CA
  • Mindy Schachtman, Chief Development Officer, Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, New York, NY
  • Alexandra Shklar, Director of Strategic Partnerships and the Centennial Campaign, JDC, New York NY
  • Dov Wilker, Atlanta Regional Director, American Jewish Committee, Atlanta, GA
  • Alex Zablotsky, Managing Director, PJ Library, Harold Grinspoon Foundation, Agawam, MA

The Wexner Foundation has more than 30 years of experience developing excellence in Jewish professionals and volunteer leaders in North America. The Wexner Field Fellowship was created in 2013 in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation to focus on developing promising Jewish professionals’ leadership skills while enveloping them in a rich network of Jewish colleagues. Wexner Field Fellows engage in a diverse, cohort-based leadership learning program.

Fellows are selected based on their past accomplishments, current motivation and engagement, and exceptional attributes they will contribute to the cohort of 15 diverse Jewish professionals of which they will be a part. Class 5 will start the program virtually and ultimately come together through in-person intensive institutes where they will be exposed to Jewish educational and professional growth opportunities, while addressing their unique needs of career and personal progress.

“The need to support emerging professional leaders in the Jewish ecosystem has never been more pressing. As we’ve seen during this unique application cycle, the field is richly blessed. I am excited about the ways in which these 15 midcareer Jewish professionals will contribute to the Wexner Field Fellowship and more importantly to the Jewish organizations and communities they will lead,” said Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson, President of The Wexner Foundation. “This new cohort of transformational leaders will add mightily to the community of Wexner Fellows and Alumni shaping the Jewish future.”

As with the first four classes of Field Fellows, Class 5 is comprised of dynamic Jewish professionals at pivotal moments in their careers. Fellows work in Jewish federations, summer camps, advocacy and social justice organizations, day schools, national organizations and local institutions across North America. To get more info about each Fellow, please click here.

“This cohort represents the Wexner Foundation’s ongoing commitment to elevate diverse voices and perspectives among leaders in Jewish engagement and education,” says Barry Finestone, President and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation. “There are deeply committed, talented leaders across the Jewish professional landscape. The Wexner Field Fellowship offers 15 of them a special opportunity to learn and grow at a moment filled with immense challenges and opportunities.”

As part of this three-year intensive professional development program, Wexner Field Fellows:

  • Become part of a selective cohort of lifelong professional learners.
  • Learn with amazing leadership teachers and Jewish educators.
  • Receive one-on-one professional coaching and Jewish learning, along with access to funds toward customized professional development opportunities.
  • Develop a nuanced appreciation for the diversity of the North American Jewish community.
  • Focus on developing strengths in adaptive leadership, storytelling, difficult conversations, negotiation and other crucial leadership skills.

About The Wexner Foundation
Led by Leslie and Abigail Wexner, The Wexner Foundation focuses on the development of Jewish professional and
volunteer leaders in North America, public leaders in Israel and Jewish teenagers in Columbus. With a respect for the
diversity of Jewish life, cohort-based learning and the development of a network of leaders, The Wexner Foundation has
never wavered from its focus on Jewish leadership excellence.

# # #

Hillel Int’l launches educational winter initiative amid coronavirus

More than 1,200 students worldwide have already signed up for the free classes.

Hillel International will be launching an initiative to connect students virtually amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dubbed “Winterfest,” from the start of the spring semester until the end of next January, Hillel will be organizing 170 small-setting experiences that will be held at universities in nine countries across the world.

”The story of our namesake, Hillel the Elder, being brought in from the cold, snowy roof to be warmed by the hearth of the Beit Midrash (House of Learning) within speaks to the ways the rabbis imagined that Torah could warm the soul and the body,” Hillel’s Vice President For Jewish Education Rabbi Benjamin Berger said. “With Hillel Winterfest, we can create cozy environments of learning that warm the soul, the mind and the body.”

“While this moment doesn’t allow students to be together in the ways they need and we wish they could be, we can still leverage the expertise we’ve built over the past year to create small groups that, even over Zoom, foster community and learning,” Berger added.

The programs are intended to provide substantive Jewish learning to students on and off campus, all the while combating social isolation by fostering connections among Jewish students amid the health crisis.

The program, sponsored by the Maimonides Fund and Jim Joseph Foundation through the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund, will launch the small-setting experiences throughout Belarus, Canada, France, Georgia, Germany, Israel, Russia, Ukraine and the US.

Berger notes that normally the college experience allows students to create countless personal connections, and with that grow increasingly independent overtime. However, amid the health crisis, many new students have to forego this experience within their first year or two of college, as current health guidelines do not allow for these types of interactions.

“Many of the most meaningful experiences students have at Hillel are in smaller groups. With Winterfest, Hillel is building on the Jewish concept of a minyan – a gathering of 10 people with a specific purpose – to bring light and warmth to students during this dark time,” said Hillel President and CEO Adam Lehman.

“We learned from the work we did to support Jewish college community throughout this year, and we found that activities where students could gather in cohorts, which met regularly, generated better attendance and interest than drop-in or one-off activities. This is what students are looking for and that is what Winterfest will provide,” Lehman added.

More than 1,200 students worldwide have already signed up for the free classes.

Source: “Hillel Int’l launches educational winter initiative amid coronavirus,” Jerusalem Post, January 6, 2020

Sifting Through the Mixed Blessings Created by the Pandemic

This is the third piece in series in eJewish Philanthropy on the new report from CASJE, conducted by Rosov Consulting, Facing the Future: Mapping the Marketplace of Jewish Education during COVID-19 Read the first piece and second piece in the series on the growing opportunities of full-time work in Jewish education and on what educational offerings parents are prioritizing.

The recent interchange between Andrés Spokoiny and Russel Neiss about what Spokoiny called the “democratization of quality” accelerated by COVID-19 captures two competing visions of Jewish education and the role of the Jewish educator. Spokoiny was celebrating increased access to high quality educational content from anywhere in the world, often free of charge. Neiss saw another instance of misguided seduction by broadcast technology, at the expense of “empower[ing] our teachers and learners with the skills and permission to reinvision, remix and renew our tradition for themselves.”

We don’t intend to take a position in this argument. We want to underline how the perspectives articulated get to the core of one of the more confusing implications of COVID-19 for providers of Jewish education. These perspectives reflect an emerging reality where in many instances, the local and national are no longer well defined, discrete and complementary. They are experienced as competing goods, often within the same organization. This clash between these local and national goods occurs along a spectrum from the benign to the potentially malignant.

We’ve observed this continuum during the course of a major study of the career trajectories of Jewish educators led by CASJE (Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education), supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation and William Davidson Foundation, and conducted by Rosov Consulting.[1] Our reflections here constitute the final installment of insights derived from a recently released interim report, Facing the Future: Mapping the Marketplace of Jewish Education during COVID-19. In this report, based on one strand of the larger CASJE study, we saw the clash between the local and the national as confronted specifically by employers. We outline here how the tension between local and national plays out in a number of sectors of Jewish education, most prominently among youth serving organizations.

The relationship between local and national has been experienced as more confluence than clash among institutions like JCCs and Hillels. Despite having to downsize or furlough their staff in some cases, individual providers with well-developed local identities are, more often than usual, drawing on content and human resources from their larger institutional networks to serve populations essentially trapped at home. The providers maintain their distinct identity while functioning as portals to broader movements.

Things get more complicated in other sectors. For congregational schools, for example, the clash is not so much local versus national, as local versus distant. If their programming now is fully online, many Directors prioritize finding the best people for this moment, wherever they are located. They’re looking for people who can both communicate via this medium and are sensitive to children’s needs at this time. In a previous piece, we noted how this resulted in downsizing staff capacity, letting local people go, and assigning more hours to the strongest educators, sometimes from further afield. These choices prompt concerns about the challenge of rebuilding teams when learners come back into the building. The urgent need now, however, is to do whatever it takes to be relevant and responsive.

For youth serving organizations (YSOs), the choices between local and national are perhaps most difficult. Youth programming depends on finding appropriate and, ideally, able advisors who are geographically proximate to the audience. At the moment, though, geography is no longer a limitation. Some of the largest YSOs, such as BBYO and NCSY, set the bar high when early in the pandemic they created national portals and apps for online resources and programming accessible for individual teens. This has meant that YSOs have been able, first, to ask themselves optimally what they want to accomplish rather than what is possible to accomplish given locally available talent. They then identify the best-qualified people – outside experts if needed – to help achieve their goals – without being limited by location. In fact, they have additional flexibility now because they don’t need to worry about staff-teen ratios in a supervisory sense when programming online. As one director put it, “we don’t have to hire new staff, we can go back to known performers.”

While these circumstances have created a moment of opportunity, some are wrestling with a series of accompanying complications. Local-level youth programming has been hit by the financial challenges of the present moment. Youth professionals were among the first staff to be let go or furloughed by congregations and by other local providers. And, when communities are reopening or seeking to reestablish personal connections among teens and between teens and near peers, there is evidence that some organizations see internships rather than rehires as a more attractive locally-based option when it comes to staffing. There is a danger that a sector that gradually professionalized in recent years will be degraded by financial pressures.

Additionally, one of the greatest strengths of YSOs has always been their ground-game, their ability to form relationships with young people and create opportunities for them to spend time with one another and shape their own experiences. These assets have been badly battered and might be hard to rebuild. At the same time, with so much programming now flowing from central sources, the quality of these offerings is much more consistent and may even be higher. Some of it is said to be exceptional. This, we believe, is the dilemma at the crux of the interchange between Spokoiny and Neiss.

On the one hand, because of their national reach, the YSOs have been able to bring exceptional new content to their participants, and at the same time they are fearful for the future of their prize assets – the local personnel who can form a direct connection with youth. The question is can they somehow hold on to both.

The pandemic has changed the rules of the youth-serving game, and those of other sectors too. These changes do not simply pose questions about staffing and capacity. The dilemmas surfaced are essentially reflective of competing visions of Jewish education. To what extent is Jewish education about the cultivation of relationships, and to what extent is it about initiation into content? The pandemic requires us to confront ultimate questions of this kind.

The multi-year research project is generously funded by the William Davidson Foundation and Jim Joseph Foundation.

Frayda Gonshor Cohen, EdD, is a Senior Project Leader at Rosov Consulting, a mission-driven company that works with funders and grantees to inform and improve Jewish education and engagement.

Alex Pomson is Principal and Managing Director at Rosov Consulting, For more information, visit

[1] As part of this study, we conducted interviews and focus groups during July and August of this year with 75 individuals responsible for hiring Jewish educators in a wide span of educational institutions: overnight and day camps, Hillels, day schools, congregations and afterschool programs, JCCs, and early childhood centers.

How Essential is Jewish Education? COVID-19 Brings Some Clarity

This is the second piece in series in eJewish Philanthropy on the new report from CASJE, conducted by Rosov Consulting, Facing the Future: Mapping the Marketplace of Jewish Education during COVID-19 Read the first piece in the series here on the growing opportunities of full-time work in Jewish education.

In the United States web searches for the word “essential” spiked between March 22 and March 28, 2020. The reason is not too mysterious. California announced statewide stay-at-home on March 19th. By March 30th there were similar orders in thirty states. Critical to the lockdown orders was the concept of “essential,” marking which services could continue in person. Across the country people struggled to understand the calculus by which some things closed and others remained opened.

Since the pandemic first disrupted life and work in North America, a steady stream of reports from the field have provided regular updates about “What’s going on in Jewish Education?” and how specific sectors have been coping. A recently released CASJE report, conducted by Rosov Consulting, takes a different tack. It uncovers what is happening in various sectors through the lens of human capital. As part of the “Mapping the Market” strand of CASJE’s Career Trajectories of Jewish Educators Study, this interim report conveys how the labor market in certain sectors of Jewish education has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.[1]

This focus on the labor market reveals a picture that is both familiar and fresh. It makes vivid just how inconsistent the impact of COVID-19 has been on the different sectors of Jewish education and how diverse the patterns of response have been to widely shared challenges. Still despite the diversity of the educational programs in the study, several themes emerged in looking at how COVID-19 affected Jewish education across sectors.

Special Status of Essential Programs
One key observation is the special status afforded to Jewish educational programs deemed essential and even the novelty of the very concept of essential as a framework for categorizing programs. Those sectors that provide services that people cannot do without, in particular childcare and day school education, seem to be emerging from the present moment in better shape than others. They have responded to the moment vigorously, although exactly what business models will prove sustainable for the early childhood sector is uncertain.

These two essential programs, early childhood and day school, are core providers of education (both general and Jewish) and of care for children. Without these programs, parents’ capacity to function day-to-day would be seriously impaired; children’s fundamental well-being and ongoing development would be compromised. Programs that continue to provide these basic functions through these challenging months have earned deep appreciation and gratitude; “big love,” as one interviewee put it. Stakeholder trust in and commitment to these programs may have grown as well.

Luxuries, Leisure Activities, and Nice-to-Haves
Other programs have been viewed differently. They may be perceived as luxuries, leisure activities, or nice-to-haves that enrich and enhance but can be relinquished in the near term. Some are perceived as peripheral obligations or burdens that can be discarded in stressful times – activities which may or may not be picked up again when some semblance of normalcy resumes. Those sectors whose services (in aggregate) are not perceived to reach the threshold of essential – congregational schools and local-level youth work stand out in this respect – have been severely challenged and have seen significant cuts in staff. As an example, parents who ensured their children’s attendance at in-person supplementary school may decide for now to opt-out of yet another virtual schooling program. Something similar was the case over the summer, when parents didn’t push their children to spend yet more hours on-screen to participate in “virtual camp.” Neither supplementary school nor camp were deemed essential by many.

In determining what programs are essential, one might also ask: essential to whom? As a Washington Post article offered, what is essential can be culturally determined. In Belgium, during the thick of lockdown, frites stands remained open; in France, wine stores. In Philadelphia (where Arielle lives) daycares closed and bike stores remained open in the spring; in the fall, public schools never opened but casinos did. In Israel (where Alex lives), there was consternation that falafel stands did not make the cut. This concept of essential, which took on new meaning and urgency in the pandemic, not only dictated what we could or could not do but also revealed who we were and what we prioritized.

Indeed, the word essential means not only that which is important. The word essential can also mean the innermost, elemental nature of a person or phenomenon. That which is deep-rooted, distinctive and fundamental; what lies at our core.

Audiences Determine Their Fundamental Needs
As diverse audiences for Jewish education weigh what is essential in their own lives, they also signal their sentiments about the field’s offerings through a new metric: those programs that respond to their most fundamental needs and those which are, frankly, optional. They distill programs down to what they see as the core components and central rationales and ask how necessary these programs are to them, their families and to their communities. We may not agree with all their calculations or think they are fair, but they certainly have a logic.

In a nation where leisure time for full-time employed professionals is decreasing and with younger American generations having less disposable income than previous ones, the optional may be more and more difficult to justify. Those sectors most threatened by the new calculus may need to reexamine their central rationales and better articulate their essence – and why they too are essential.

The multi-year research project is generously funded by the William Davidson Foundation and Jim Joseph Foundation.

Arielle Levites is Managing Director of CASJE (Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education) housed at George Washington University. You can read more about CASJE’s work at

Alex Pomson is Principal and Managing Director at Rosov Consultinga mission-driven company that works with funders and grantees to inform and improve Jewish education and engagement. For more information, visit

Look out! An Emerging Shift in the Jewish Education Labor Market

Since the COVID-19 pandemic first disrupted life and work in North America in March 2020, a steady stream of reports has provided updates about What’s going on in Jewish education.” Informed by leading practitioners, these reports help construct a picture of how educational institutions have been hit by the pandemic and how demand for their services has been impacted.

Over the next few weeks, we will share insights gained from a distinct and different vantage point. Our data come from a major study of the career trajectories of Jewish educators led by CASJE (Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education) and conducted by Rosov Consulting. As part of this study, we conducted interviews and focus groups during July and August of this year with 75 individuals responsible for hiring Jewish educators in a wide span of educational institutions: overnight and day camps, Hillels, day schools, congregations and afterschool programs, JCCs, and early childhood centers. By exploring the marketplace for Jewish educators now, we opened a new window on the broader landscape of Jewish education and its current state.

Our findings are reported in an interim report, Facing the Future: Mapping the Marketplace of Jewish Education during COVID-19. Over the next few weeks, we share with readers of eJewish Philanthropy what we found as seen through the lens of human capital. In this first piece we discuss a potentially significant shift in Jewish education from a labor market of part-time to full-time work.


Historically, the field of Jewish education has been heavily populated by part-timers. Across the largest sectors of Jewish education – congregational schools, early childhood education and day schools – about a third of Jewish educators are part-timers. It has long been argued that it will be hard to professionalize the field of Jewish education while this situation persists; institutions are reluctant to invest, for example, in the professional development of those who “only” work part time.

The exigencies of the current moment have seen the beginning of a seismic shift. In those educational sectors that were among the first to reopen following the spring closedown – early childhood centers in the summer, day schools in the fall – health regulations have limited the number of children who can gather in one space. Programs are restricted in their use of substitutes and “floaters,” part-time or occasional staff used to plug gaps in staffing rosters. Take the case of early childhood education: parental demand is down, with some parents expressing anxiety about returning to any kind of “center.” Nevertheless, because of health regulations, centers are having to staff up. They’re finding that part-time staff are not so willing to return to work – it’s not worth the health risk in a sector where compensation and benefits have been intractably subpar and part-timers are not their family’s primary breadwinners. The best way to break this jam is to employ a smaller number of full-time staff.

In day schools, where Heads had to plan for a wide variety of scenarios – fully online, in person pods, and some hybrid – the solution has been to build bench strength. Some schools are finding that it pays to double down on full-time teaching assistants who are often cheaper and more flexible than regular appointments. Assistants help keep ratios down in the classroom or in breakout rooms on Zoom. Other are opting for a more expensive alternative: they’re hiring permanent substitutes who they don’t have to share with other schools. They’re hiring “plug and play” folks who can ensure that schools aren’t caught short if a staff member has to be quarantined, and, again, they help reduce student-teacher ratios. With many schools making clear they won’t accommodate teachers who can’t be at school in person because of healthcare or childcare needs, there is also a good deal of faculty turnover. As with early childhood education, the solution is staff consolidation: fewer people working longer hours.

The dynamic in congregational education has been different, but the outcome in terms of staffing is much the same. Programs have been hit by a barrage of financial blows. Congregations have cut budgets for a variety of widely reported reasons. Parents have pulled children who have little appetite to spend even more hours on-screen for “supplementary” Jewish education; they don’t see the point in paying both synagogue fees and afterschool fees when the synagogue is physically closed or they can attend services anywhere in the world, remotely.

The congregations that have embraced the challenge of remote provision, investing in virtual learning platforms and dispersing their offerings across the week, have discovered some promising advantages. Operating online, they’re no longer tied to the vagaries of the local labor market for part-time staff; they can offer more work to their star performers, even those who may have moved out of town. The key is to find people who, in the words of one interviewee, are high tech and high touch. Education Directors report that these online offerings have been especially welcomed by parents; they’re not limited to specific hours and, of course, don’t require sitting in afterschool traffic. When schools can fully reopen, these alternative modes of delivery have every chance of remaining viable and appealing; they are much more in sync with families’ lives.

The pandemic has been painful, often heartbreaking. When the pain dissipates, we may see its contribution to the restructuring of the marketplace of Jewish education in ways that once seemed a pipedream. In some sectors, there might be fewer providers, operating with leaner, higher-quality teams, offering a more diverse array of programs, some of which will no longer be tied to bricks and mortar. In other sectors, the numbers of providers might not change much, but the providers could be employing more coherently structured full-time teams. This adjustment has potential to be a significant enabler of the upgrading of this field to a stature that reflects its contribution to Jewish life.

The multi-year research project is generously funded by the William Davidson Foundation and Jim Joseph Foundation.

Alex Pomson is Principal and Managing Director at Rosov Consulting.

originally published in eJewish Philanthropy

The Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative is Offering Three Common Measurement Tools at No Cost

For the first time, those invested in engaging teens have free access to a set of tools that can help track progress of any teen engagement effort, demonstrate accountability to funders and stakeholders, and inform important policy and resource allocation decisions – actions that are even more critical as a result of recent events.

Released by the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder CollaborativeMeasuring Impact: Surveys & Data Guidelines for Any Teen Education & Engagement Effort will help further elevate the field and enhance the work of those who care about meaningful Jewish engagement for young people.

Created in partnership with Rosov Consulting, a research firm that works with funders and grantees to inform and improve Jewish education and engagement, three surveys have been refined by the 10 participating communities of the Funder Collaborative. Moreover, recognizing that many organizations do not employ a data analyst, the Funder Collaborative will also make consulting hours available from Rosov Consulting for a limited number of organizations so they can customize the surveys and receive high level guidance on ways to understand and analyze the responses (interested organizations can email [email protected]). The surveys are:

  • Teen Survey: the first validated and reliable way to measure the impact of Jewish experiences, the tool includes demographic information so programs can understand who they are reaching, and the Teen Learning and Engagement Scales (TJLES), survey questions which formed the basis of a major national research project, the GenZ Now: Understanding and Connecting with Jewish Teens Today.
  • Parent Survey: the tool probes the attitudes and behaviors of parents of teens to garner a deeper understanding of their perspectives, knowledge, and behaviors regarding teen involvement in Jewish life.
  • Youth Professionals Survey: educators assess their preparedness to do their work; the tool measures their sense of whether they feel equipped with the appropriate skills, knowledge and core competencies, as well as how valued and satisfied they feel in their roles.

“The data collected through these surveys can paint a rich picture for each organization about the whole teen education and engagement ecosystem: teens’ aspirations and motivations, parents’ desires and values, and youth professionals’ sense of their own ability to fulfill their roles,” said Sara Allen, Executive Director of the Funder Collaborative. “Although different programs take different pathways to meaningful Jewish engagement, making these publicly available equips the field with a common language and a powerful way to gather important information.

“Resources may be stretched thin, but that is precisely when good data becomes even more important – it is vital to smart decision-making,” adds Wendy Rosov, Founder of Rosov Consulting. “To make the surveys even more relevant, in response to these challenging times we incorporated new questions around wellness and mental health. We look forward to working with organizations and programs to customize the surveys to get at the heart of their own learning questions.”

The measurement tools will help organizations benchmark their goals to support their decision-making and strategy, determine and prioritize where to put resources, and help uncover what changes, if any, they might need to make in their approach. The data also can inform and essentially help advocate for increased funding or resources. Three youth-serving organizations have already fielded the surveys and have found tremendous value in using a common set of instruments.

“The professionals engaged in this work are such a key factor in creating and delivering Jewish experiences that resonate with teens,” said Wayne Green, Executive Director of the Jewish Teen Funders Network, which is using the youth professionals survey. “By fielding the Funder Collaborative’s youth professionals’ survey, we’re now able to accurately understand our youth professionals and offer them professional development programs, training, and tools to meet their needs and elevate their work. We are now looking forward to fielding the parent survey in the coming months.”

“We typically survey our teen members every few years, as well as our graduating seniors on an annual basis, to measure not only how many teens we’re reaching but the impact BBYO has on their Jewish learning and growth and how this can inform our future strategy and metrics,” said Karen Alpert, Vice President of IT Strategy and Measurement. “In 2017, we began using the TJLES as the foundational element to measure impact. With just four years of data, we have been able to track our progress more effectively, understand what programs have the most impact on teens, and prove that the more involved a teen becomes in BBYO, they more they grow Jewishly.”

The detailed guidebook, released along with the surveys, provides practical advice to empower any professional to field and analyze the surveys themselves. It includes sections on “How to Collect Data,” “How to Understand Data,” and “How to Share Data,” all with easy-to-implement but important tips and best practices.  It also provides guidance on incentivizing survey response rates, and consent and data privacy.

For more information and to access the surveys and guidebook, please be in touch with Sara Allen, Executive Director of the Funder Collaborative at [email protected].

Emotion Before Content: Evidence Based Recommendations for Designing Virtual Jewish Engagement

As the ongoing pandemic requires us to protect one another by staying apart, organizations across the Jewish sector are unlocking the secret to engaging meaningfully with young Jews in digital spaces. How? By nourishing hearts first, and minds second.

Great virtual events leave participants feeling happy, relaxed, connected, and twice as likely to attend another event by the same or another organization. Poorly executed or unsatisfying virtual events can have a negative effect on participants, leaving them more tired, disconnected and frustrated, and more than 50% less likely to participate in another event by any organization.

New market research commissioned by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and the Jim Joseph Foundation shows the key to successful virtual events for Jewish young adults is designing virtual gatherings more intentionally for the emotional experience of offerings than they would for in-person gatherings, where content can drive.

What separates successful virtual events from unsuccessful ones is their ability to meet one or more of three key needs: communityfulfillment and fun.

(Full report on the data and findings is here.)


Right now, more than learning or growing, just feeling a sense of togetherness seems to be the most important thing.”

Young Jews are looking to connect. Of our respondents, 84% report it’s especially important to connect with other people, 70% feel it is particularly important to connect to something Jewish now, and 63% have participated in something Jewish virtually since the pandemic began. There, young Jews seek belonging, intimacy, personal connection and/or the opportunity to meet new people with whom they share commonalities.

BBYO, a high school youth organization, heard through alumni Facebook groups that their alumni were eager to reconnect. “It was very organic,” says Rebecca Cohen, Director of the Anita M. Perlman Women’s Leadership Initiative. “We said to them, ‘if you want to connect, we want to be that convener for you.’” They supported alumni with planning, experts, technology and communications through a variety of events from socializing to opportunities to mentor teens. Leveraging existing identity, community and culture meant that the gatherings felt “easy and comfortable” as one participant put it.

The Kavana Cooperative in Seattle has created brief, 30-minute community touch-points every Friday evening. Rabbi Rachel creates multiple opportunities for deep connection, including prompts for sharing and space for participants to be intimate and vulnerable with one another: celebrating happy occasions like new babies and birthdays, holding each other as families move through chemo, addiction or loss, and acknowledging all that’s happening in the world around, from COVID to conversations on systemic racism and democracy. Then they conclude by singing Shabbat table blessings together. “Zoom has been a great equalizer,” said Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum. “It has removed any hierarchies or perceived differences between those who know more or sing louder… and thus has become our community’s space for authentic connection regardless of anyone’s usual Shabbat practice.”

Things you might consider:

  • As the host, setting culture and structures for connection is even more important online. Humanize experiences by inviting people to bring their full selves and make connections. Invite honesty, vulnerability, humor or needs.
  • Create opportunities for participants to connect in small groups, like in breakout rooms, even for five minutes during the event. When in larger groups, encourage the use of hand signals to reduce awkwardness and support equitable virtual discussions.
  • Design to build on aspects of relationships, identity and/or a sense of belonging to maximize relevance and connection satisfaction.
  • Offer a personal touch by calling people by name. Help people feel “seen” and build a sense of intimacy in the group.


The event was based on a collection of food and clothing for those affected by the pandemic in my community… I was proud to participate in this cause.”

It has been difficult to remain at home, distanced from many of the activities young Jews turn to for social, emotional and spiritual fulfillment. Many are engaging in more casual, at-home behavior – 75% of respondents said they have spent time on an existing hobby or developed a new hobby in the last few months. Our research showed that successful events support participants in discovering new insights, discussing an issue they care about and leaving the event with meaningful or actionable takeaways.

The Great Big Jewish Food Fest in May, designed to maximize virtual environments while restaurants were closed, leveraged available talent and offered novel experiences, such as a tour of Jewish delis across the country, or famous chefs cooking “together” in their home kitchens in Tel Aviv, Philadelphia and New York City. The combination of entertainment, practical skills and exclusive access drew more than 20,000 people. As one participant said, “It lifted my spirits and provided content that was interesting and informative. The programs inspired me to re-read Jewish recipes and recipes in general that my mom had hand written and passed on to me… It brought me closer to my Jewish roots and identity through food.”

JDC Entwine, known for its impactful global travel and volunteer experiences, has designed virtual programs that will be evolved into a fully blended platform once the pandemic is over. One such opportunity enables young adults to volunteer for an hour per week over three months with isolated JDC-supported elderly and teenagers overseas. Participants receive pre-service training, regular check-ins and support as a cohort, and have flexibility in how and when they connect with their overseas “client” for company, conversation and/or practicing English. “This opportunity truly nourishes the soul in a challenging time in our world…. It is an absolute joy to be able to put my Russian to use and to connect with a teen client in Odessa,” said Shoshana from Ohio.

Things you might consider:

  • Design for activities your audience is already doing, or specific needs they have.
  • Consider how you want participants to leave the event feeling – happy, relaxed, excited, informed, empowered, connected? How will your design inspire that feeling?
  • Keep participants engaged by including active, participatory elements such as writing, drawing, learning in chevruta (with a partner), or sharing back insights with the group through a chat function or discussion.
  • Leave participants with a new idea, ritual, skill, recipe or playlist. Include meaningful activities participants can do after the event.


It was nice to laugh with a group of people. So much sadness and disease is overtaking the world and so much time and energy is (rightfully) focused on it. It was a much needed break.”

It is harder to find pockets of fun, and yet our research finds that fun is the most significant element to differentiate a worthwhile event from one that felt like a waste of time for young Jews, by a 30+ point margin. ‘Fun’ can be the main purpose of your event, or an embedded element. It can be light and silly, or something that just provides an opportunity to unwind and relax.

Jewish Geography Zoom Racing, a playful Zoom-based game similar to ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ in which contestants race through their network to connect to “The Chosen One,” a person about whom contestants only know a few bits of information, has become a weekly event that stirs up social networks and evokes playfulness of Maccabiah at Jewish summer camp among thousands of viewers and dozens of participants. “Everybody is available right now,” says founder Micah Hart, “and the surprise and delight of reconnecting with someone through this game makes people smile and is nourishing for the soul!”

The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan runs Adaptations and Connections, programs for adults with special needs. They regularly design for sensory and social comfort because reducing anxiety helps people “feel safe and relaxed,” says Dorsey Massey, Director of the Center for Special Needs Programs + Inclusion, “and that provides a moment of respite from the rest of the world.”

Things you might consider:

  • How can you manifest that personality of your event in every aspect of what you do, from the invitation to the welcome to the content?
  • The host of an event serves as a kind of MC that sets the tone. As one respondent described: “The main speaker/host needs to be enthusiastic, friendly, and interesting. It doesn’t matter how great of a program you have if the host’s robotic introduction causes everyone to immediately sign off.”
  • While many are starved for a sense of playfulness, small doses can go a long way. Consider adding elements of playfulness in small doses, like an introductory activity (Pictionary) or built into transitions (Who goes next? Rock paper scissors!)


One of challenges with online events is that we miss so many social cues and social norms that we’d otherwise feel in person. Our research found many events can feel awkward and anxiety provoking because of the lack of attentiveness to establishing these norms. Some tips:

  1. The cold start of online events lacks the transitions into the event that help people feel present, ready, and together (like riding the elevator together, seeing people as you walk in, settling into a chair with others are your table). Instead set the tone! For example, “Attire: business casual from the waist up” sets a certain humorous tone even for a somewhat serious event.
  2. Designate someone to manage the tech (admitting people in the waiting room, managing break outs, dealing with tech support in the chat, muting people as needed) who is not presenting or running the program.
  3. Use the technology tools to your advantage to avoid participants feeling awkward and overwhelmed. For example, utilizebreakout rooms to support discussion on topics with other participants in smaller groups.
  4. Design with more structure than you would for in person events. Online gatherings lack the casual, emergent cadence of being in a room together.Include formal introductions, put a list of participants in the chat so everyone is clear about who goes next, or posting discussion questions in the chat before you go into breakout rooms so everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing.

Jewish organizations have done an incredible job transitioning to virtual programming that plays meets the key needs of Jewish young adults right now. Satisfaction is high, as are intentions for repeat engagement. We hope the findings from this research and the focus on connection, fulfillment and fun will help organizations and funders expand on the good work already happening.

We would love to hear examples of how you are designing for and/or experiencing connection, fulfillment and fun in your online events. Please share your stories in the comments.

About the research: Benenson Strategy Group surveyed 1,001 American Jews nationwide, ages 18-40, from June 29 – July 15, 2020. Surveys were conducted via an online panel; respondents have all opted in to do research and receive invitations to the survey through their preferred method of contact. Our survey then screened respondents for self-identification as Jewish. You can review the detailed results here.

Rella Kaplowitz is the Senior Program Officer for Evaluation and Learning at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, making sure the Foundation has the right information to strengthen its work. During the pandemic, Rella and her family are finding community, fulfillment and fun through virtual tot Shabbats and story time with cousins, family art time, Challah baking and dance parties.

Stacie Cherner is the Director of Learning and Evaluation at the Jim Joseph Foundation where she oversees the research and evaluation work of the Foundation. She and her husband are in California, living (with one wifi connection) with a teenager and young adult who are also trying to find community, fulfillment and fun online and offline.

Lisa Narodick Colton is the Founder and President of Darim Online and Darim Consulting, working to help Jewish organizations adapt to the digital, connected age. In addition to her consulting work, she was the Executive Producer of The Great Big Jewish Food Fest in May, an effort which gave her (and hopefully a few others) connection, fulfillment and fun even before this research was conducted.

Source: “Emotion Before Content: Evidence Based Recommendations for Designing Virtual Jewish Engagement,” Rella Kaplowitz, Stacie Cherner, Lisa Narodick Colton, eJewish Philanthropy, September 10, 2020

New project aims to document Covid-19’s impact on Jewish community

A small coalition of leading Jewish foundations aims to chronicle American Jews’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic in an ambitious, multi-part project.

The initiative intends to document how the Jewish community was impacted by — and responded to — the novel coronavirus. Much of the project focuses on bringing largely underrepresented Jewish voices — including those of Jews of color, LGBTQ Jews and Jews with disabilities — into the documenting of American Jewish history.

“Crises have been moments in which Jewish wisdom gets forged. That’s part of the Jewish story,” said Aaron Dorfman, president of the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, which initiated the project. “We do kind of a remarkable job of making meaning of and integrating into Jewish tradition our experience of catastrophe, and this felt like a moment like that for the Jewish people and the world,” he told Jewish Insider.

Lippman Kanfer is being joined in the funding collaborative by the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Altogether they have committed $240,000 to the effort.

Much as the Talmud records the manifold ways that Diaspora Jews adapted to life after the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, Dorfman said, the new project aims to document the ways in which American Jewish life is being transformed through adaptations made necessary by the pandemic.

“We’ve been interested in innovation and this moment has almost forced us into an innovation mindset,” said Stacie Cherner, director of learning and evaluation at the Jim Joseph Foundation. “We realized we should try to capture as much of the good innovation happening to hopefully learn and continue what’s been positive out of all of this. So when we go back to ‘normal’ we can hold onto some of the things we learned during this time.”

The funding collaborative brought together 11 historians, archivists, librarians, social scientists and museum professionals from May through July, who developed a four-part chronicling plan.

They began by identifying two challenges, according to a request for proposals that the funding collaborative will publish later this week. The first is that current COVID-19 documentation efforts are decentralized and duplicative. The second is that the voices of underrepresented parts of the American Jewish community continue to be missed.

The four projects designed to remedy that include: the creation of a web portal to allow anyone to access links to all collections related to COVID-19 and the American Jewish community; a grassroots effort to collect American Jewish family stories; a research paper on exclusion and underrepresentation in American Jewish history; and convening of communities that have been traditionally excluded from American Jewish history documentation.

“Most of documented American Jewish history has been of Ashkenazi Jews,” said Annie Polland, executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, which is based at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan and includes 30 million documents. Polland is a historian and a member of the new project’s advisory committee. “Now more than ever within the Jewish community, we are understanding that we need to engage communities to understand and incorporate different stories into what we know as history.”

“At a time when the country is engaged in deep thinking about who are Americans and what stories we have not been telling, it’s almost like archives become that much more important in the work.”

While formulating the project, the funding collaborative assembled a landscape map of 59 different Jewish pandemic-related collecting efforts already underway. Those include efforts by the American Jewish Historical Society, Jewish Federations of North America and the Smithsonian Institution, and religiously affiliated organizations like Yeshiva University, centrist Orthodoxy’s Rabbinical Council of America and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly. Others are regionally focused, at the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee and the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest. All will be invited to be linked in the planned web portal, Dorfman said. The funding collaborative made multiple attempts to reach Agudath Israel of America to ask them to participate in their effort, but received no response from the umbrella group representing the interests of the ultra-Orthodox, said Dorfman.

Separately, but related to the new four-part initiative, AJHS received a Lippman Kanfer Foundation grant to conduct a COVID-19 oral history project involving 36 Jewish leaders, including doctors and heads of organizations.

Source: “New project aims to document Covid-19’s impact on Jewish community,” Debra Nussbaum Cohen, Jewish Insider, August 26, 2020

Choosing to be a Jewish Educator: Concepts With Which to climb the Cliff Face

Recently, I’ve been interviewing Jewish day school educators about how they’ve tried to provide meaningful educational experiences to students over virtual platforms. These have been some of the most humbling professional conversations I’ve ever conducted.

I was once a day-school teacher myself. I was drawn to the work because I had a knack for getting young people excited about Jewish culture and the Jewish past. Teaching was fun. It was exhausting, but I was energized by the opportunity to be creative and to touch the lives of the next generation.

As I talked with these educators, I was overwhelmed by a sense that none ever imagined how difficult their work would be: needing to reach their students for months on end, by video; helping address students’ mounting concerns about their futures; supporting especially those who say repeatedly “I learn best in person.” None ever reimagined their work would look like this.

In the days since the last of these conversations I’ve been asking myself how many of these people will have the appetite to stay with this acutely challenging work, how many might be let go by their employers like so many others in less fortunate sectors; camps, JCCs and Federations, for example. We, and they, don’t know. As I recently heard my colleague, David Bryfman, argue, the most challenging aspect of this pandemic is that we don’t know when it will end. Our lives are gripped by extreme uncertainty.

Our team at Rosov Consulting is in the midst of a major study of the career trajectories of Jewish educators that, we believe, can help educators and their employers navigate some of this uncertainty. The work, part of a larger study commissioned about six months before the pandemic by CASJE (Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education), is sponsored by the Jim Joseph Foundation and the William Davidson Foundation. We didn’t know then how relevant it would be to our present uncertain moment. It might be even more useful when the community is ready to rebuild for a new reality.

We’re currently wrapping up a survey of thousands of young people about their career choices. Even before we complete this data gathering effort, our work provides clues that can help educational leaders skate fast to wherever the puck might make it on what is a decidedly icy surface.

The survey was shaped by a preliminary investigation of the concepts that shed light on the meaning of career today; the factors and forces that shape the desire to pursue a career, and specifically a career in Jewish education. This investigation involved an extensive literature review, interviews with key informants in the field, and focus groups with early career educators. A working paper about this work, Preparing for Entry: Concepts that Support a Study of What it Takes to Launch a Career in Jewish Education, can be found here.

This preliminary work shows that choosing to work as a Jewish educator and deciding to enter this field as a career – regardless of the defining characteristics of this current moment – results from the interplay of four contributing componentsProvisionally, we call them stimulipersonal assets, enabling opportunities, and inhibitors. Stimuli are the factors and forces that whet an interest in and stoke a passion to work as a Jewish educator. Personal assets support an individual’s readiness and capacity to become a Jewish educator at any point along their pathway to the field. Enabling opportunities are the frameworks and programs that help translate an appetite to work as a Jewish educator into a readiness and capacity to be one. Inhibitors are the circumstances and pressures that discourage individuals either from working in the field of Jewish education altogether or from making a career in this field.

We don’t yet know the relative importance of these different concepts and their salience among different populations in predicting whether someone will enter the field of Jewish education or not. What we do know from our review of literature on the career choices of educators and of those in fields that call for clinical knowledge, care and civic commitment is that these concepts are continually in tension. People draw on strong reasons for doing (and continuing to do) this work; they won’t and can’t take on the work without access to skills and resources that help them perform well; and even when ready and able to embark on this work, they can still be deflected by economic, professional and personal circumstances.

Of course, each person’s story is different, but viewing career entry and retention in conceptual terms can be profoundly useful. Concepts are the crimps that help us climb the smoothest cliff faces. They give us something on which to hold as we advance across uncertain terrain. The concepts we examine in the Preparing for Entry paper distill bodies of knowledge that indicate what draws quality educators to their work. They reference factors that are known to deter or defer particular career choices. They reveal what interventions, supports and resources can enable a promising individual to commit to this field even in the most challenging circumstances.

These concepts help make sense of why, as I was told in one recent interview, a young educator, living alone under lockdown far from family and responsible for the education of tens of high school students, has nevertheless persevered with this impossible task, providing his students with inspirational Jewish content. Concepts turn a moving anecdote into a theory of action.

Alex Pomson is Principal and Managing Director of Rosov Consulting. 

originally published in ejewish Philanthropy

Jewish Emergent Network Rabbinic Fellowship to Sunset

Last week the Jewish Emergent Network sent off seven early-career rabbis with love and blessings, after they’d been immersed in the practices and communities of the Network’s seven organizations for two years. The Rabbinic Fellows include Rabbi Keilah Lebell at IKAR in Los Angeles, Rabbi Joshua Weisman at Kavana in Seattle, Rabbi Tarlan Rabizadeh at The Kitchen in San Francisco, Rabbi Emily Cohen at Lab/Shul in New York City, Rabbi Jeff Stombaugh at Mishkan in Chicago, Rabbi Mira Rivera at Romemu in New York, and Rabbi Jesse Paikin at Sixth & I in Washington, D.C.

The Jewish Emergent Network’s Rabbinic Fellowship spanned four years and two cohorts, and helped shape 14 members of the next generation of entrepreneurial, risk-taking, change-making rabbis. Each Fellow took on a variety of independent rabbinic tasks while immersed as a full-time clergy member at one of the Network organizations, and received supervision and support from leaders within the host organization. Throughout the program, Fellows met regularly as a fully assembled cohort, traveling to each of the seven Network communities for learning intensives at which they trained with Network and non-Network rabbis, teachers and other experts from around the country. Throughout, the Fellows had the chance to engage and share best practices around innovation and creativity with regard to Jewish community building. The Fellowship aimed to fortify these early-career rabbis with skills that will equally prepare them to initiate independent communities, and be a unique value – and valued – inside existing Jewish institutions and synagogues. Each Fellow was steeped in the spirit and best practices of the Network organizations and is poised to educate, engage, and serve an array of target populations, especially young adults and families with young children.

To mark the end of their Rabbinic Fellowship, the Fellows released a podcast that was intended to be part of a capstone project presented at the Jewish Emergent Network’s postponed (RE)VISION20/20 conference. Listeners can tune in here to listen to these seven dynamic rabbis answer a real congregant’s question about whether a drug-induced state is a credible way to get close to God.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the Jewish Emergent Network organizations are using what they learned in piloting this Rabbinic Fellowship to design path-breaking adult education and leadership development programs set to launch in 2021. The Network also recently partnered with REBOOT to produce 12-straight hours of streaming Shavuot content experienced by over 30,000 people, and is currently working on collaborative and accessible Elul and High Holy Day programming. Stay up-to-date at and on social channels @JewishEmNet.

The communities in the Network do not represent any one denomination or set of religious practices. What they share is a devotion to revitalizing the field of Jewish engagement, a commitment to approaches both traditionally rooted and creative, and a demonstrated success in attracting unaffiliated and disengaged Jews to a rich and meaningful Jewish practice. While each community is different in form and organizational structure, all have taken an entrepreneurial approach to this shared vision, operating outside of conventional institutional models, rethinking basic assumptions about ritual and spiritual practice, membership models, staff structures, the religious/cultural divide and physical space.

Funding for the Jewish Emergent Network and its Rabbinic Fellowship program was generously provided through a grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation. Significant additional funding was also provided by the Crown Family, the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Diane & Guilford Glazer Philanthropies, the William Davidson Foundation, the Righteous Persons Foundation, the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, and Natan. The Network is working with current funders and cultivating prospective funders in connection with its next major projects and ongoing field-building work.

Source: eJewish Philanthropy