Resetting the Table Aims to Shift ‘Rigidity into Receptivity’

Support from Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw’s Hearthland Foundation will expand the group’s programming with multi-faith leaders and the entertainment industry

As the associate vice president for campus affairs at the Jewish United Fund of Chicago and executive director of the Hillels of Illinois, Emily Briskman oversees nearly 60 Hillel professionals, many of whom spend significant time dealing with on-campus expressions of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Through her work with Hillels, Briskman has participated in programs run by Resetting the Table, an organization dedicated to building dialogue and deliberation across political divides.

First created with seed funding from UJA-Federation of New York in 2013, and becoming an independent organization the following year, Resetting the Table is in a phase of growth and expansion. Recently, Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw’s Hearthland Foundation began funding Resetting the Table programs happening outside of Jewish spaces, reaching multi-faith clergy and other leaders working to combat toxic polarization.

Resetting the Table has worked with 35 federations plus The Jewish Federations of North America and Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and trained 58 federation CEOs. The nonprofit, which has fiscal sponsorship through JCPA, has significant funding from The Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation, Project Accelerate, Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, Civic Health Project and The Jim Joseph Foundation, among others.

At JUF — which is just completing its third year of partnership with the organization — various staff teams participated in five consecutive Resetting the Table cohorts from December 2021 to May 2022. The team assembled cohorts including professionals and lay people, varying denominations, demographics and political perspectives, to engage a cross-section of the community in dialogue. Sessions emphasized skills and tools that will help participants engage in productive and collaborative conversations.

“We didn’t want a uniform or a monolithic group of people talking to each other who all agreed,” Briskman told eJewishPhilanthropy. “We really wanted to get that idea of what’s going on across the community. That intergenerational piece for us was so important,” she said. “Generational differences, especially on Israel, can be deeply polarizing,” she added.

After distributing two smaller grants in 2018, The Jim Joseph Foundation provided a three-year grant in June to provide general operating support for Resetting the Table’s work. Specifically focused on Jewish educators and leaders, the funding will support grantees’ efforts to engage young people in content about Jewish identity or Israel, the foundation’s chief operating officer, Dawne Bear Novicoff, told eJP.

“In today’s day and age, young people are looking for places to be honest, to be open, to have nuanced conversations,” Bear Novicoff said. “They don’t want to shy away from difficult conversations; therefore this is providing an opportunity for the grantees and the educators to help hold those conversations.”

Facing the fear

Resetting the Table’s first federation partnership, with the UJA-Federation of New York, had formed to identify what was driving young adult disengagement from Israel; the process revealed that what looked like apathy toward Israel was actually fear and anxiety, the organization’s co-founding executive director, Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, told eJP.

“So much of what young adults were calling for was a more productive conversation across difference,” Weintraub said. “Young adult disengagement also was in part driven by other dynamics in the community that we have to change — communal institutions and what the climate is like around Israel.” She added, “I think a lot of the impasse is around our own ideological silos within the Jewish people. I’m a big believer that we need a kind of collective insight to solve problems that we don’t have when we all live in echo chambers.”

“There’s real fear that exists in our community about talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel in general, for fear of saying the wrong thing, having the wrong opinion, being ostracized, for whatever opinion it is that you do have,” Briskman said. “Breaking that fear cycle is so important. Israel is something that we should be able to talk about,” Weintraub said, adding that many are afraid they don’t know enough about the region or are going to say the wrong thing, leading to disengagement. But Resetting the Table’s training “really breaks that cycle,” she said.

“I am among those who more frequently avoid conflict than actively engage in charged conversation,” Lisa Rosenkranz, a JUF board member who participated in the Chicago training, told program organizers. “I also live in my own bubble – the majority of people with whom I interact share my perspective. I believe the skills being built in this program extend far beyond just differing opinions about Israel – we are building the ability to have constructive conversations across many charged topics. Reflecting back and making sure you truly understand an opposing point of view is so essential for these conversations,” she said.

Weintraub describes RTT’s work as “shifting rigidity into receptivity,” adding that sessions are designed to “help shift the common tendencies of polarized conflict…so that people can take in ideas and information and people that they otherwise might have dismissed, written off out of hand.”

Federation facilitations

Resetting the Table received an aggregate of $3 million from federations for various training programs designed for their target audiences and constituencies. Baltimore brought together high-level donors and philanthropists; Seattle focused on lay leaders and board members. In addition to its partnership with JUF, the organization is in its fourth year of partnership with federations in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Weintraub compared the federation experiences to chaplaincy training: All clergy members need some pastoral counseling experience, but some train for years, or at different intensities, to achieve deeper expertise. The organization’s four-to-six session boot camp facilitation training that teaches foundational skills for difficult conversations and troubleshooting techniques for challenging group dynamics, might be particularly useful for Israel trip providers, young adults, campus professionals, clergy and others who might confront political or moral differences around Israel. There are also intensive, rigorous facilitation trainings (13 sessions over seven months); some students may train more intensively to become coaches or trainers.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles brought in Resetting the Table after hearing about its work addressing polarization in New York’s Jewish community, Alisa Finsten, the federation’s chief of staff, told eJP. With funding from a Jewish Community Foundation Cutting Edge grant — $350,000 over three years — to replicate the model, the federation created a bench of trained facilitators who could preside over challenging conversations within L.A. Jewish community organizations, and work directly with those organizations to put on dialogue programs.

“We really felt that the federation was the best organization poised to do this work, because of our role at the 30,000-foot level in the L.A. Jewish community,” Finsten said, noting federation’s partnerships with synagogues, schools, camps and Hillels in the politically diverse and geographically spread-out community. While the three-year grant period is over, Finsten added, the federation remains committed to the work, allocating funding for a staff person to serve as an in-house “force multiplier”: advising on local challenging conversations and bringing the Resetting the Table model of dialogue to its leadership programs. For example, the federation’s Community Leadership Institute cohort will participate in a Resetting the Table program before their September trip to Israel.

Beyond Israel

Resetting the Table discussions go beyond conversation for conversation’s sake, organizers say; they also glean insights and heal or strengthen relationships across divides, while facilitators, the organization’s founder added, “help people be able to investigate their differences and confront them courageously in ways they [can] stay connected and receptive.” And while Resetting the Table was created to focus on the Jewish world, after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the organization went national, bringing programs to the general population beyond Jewish issues, in a country that’s increasingly polarized.

Hearthland’s support, for example, is part of the foundation’s work “to help build a more just, equitable, and connected America,” Shayna Rose Triebwasser, the foundation’s senior program officer, told eJP.

“Part of how we do that is by investing in projects and programs that bring people together across all kinds of divides to build relationships and solidarity,” Triebwasser said. “We believe that when we come together, we not only affirm our shared humanity and have the opportunity to understand our collective challenges more fully, but we can also begin to design solutions that work for more people and build the power we need to make real change.

“We’ve seen a polarization take over our country, our globe,” Briskman said. “This project is really reacting to that because…any fracture in our community is really an existential threat. It doesn’t mean that we don’t disagree with each other, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have differences of opinion. I have a colleague who likes to say that in the Jewish community, we never expect uniformity. But we do strive for unity, which I think is a really good line, especially for Resetting the Table: we want to be able to talk to each other.”

“Resetting the Table Aims to Shift ‘Rigidity into Receptivity,’” Esther D. Kustanowitz, eJewish Philanthropy, August 11, 2022

New Israel Info Education Program – Centered Around Argument Circles – Receives $1.1m

The approach involves creating workshops that encourage collaborative discussions when arguments regarding Israel’s complexities arise. 

Innovative Jewish educators Abi Dauber Sterne and Robbie Gringas have taken on a new approach to learning about Israel: Argument circles.

Now, with the help of a  $1.1 million grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation, For the Sake of Argument (FSA)’s pilot program will give Dauber Sterne and Gringas the opportunity to achieve successful execution of the program among Jewish community groups across the world.

The approach involves creating workshops that encourage collaborative discussions when arguments regarding Israel’s complexities arise.

“We embrace arguments as a powerful tool for getting to know ourselves, each other, and the issues we’re discussing more deeply,” reads their mission statement.

The Jim Joseph Foundation — a private organization that supports Jewish education among youth and young adult groups — aims to “help all Jews, their families, and their friends lead connected, meaningful, purpose-filled lives and to make positive contributions to their communities,” according to its mission statement.

“Abi Dauber Sterne and Robbie Gringras have a timely, important vision to create a new multidimensional learning model for Israel education,” commented Steven Green, Senior Director at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

“This trust-based approach is about engaging young learners in authentic, deeply meaningful conversations around Israel based on disagreements that acknowledge a diversity of perspectives. The Foundation is pleased to support their efforts.”

Dauber Sterne, a religious Jewish American-Israeli, is the current director of Makom: Israel Education Lab of the Jewish Agency for Israel. She previously served as vice-president of Jewish Education at Hillel International for seven years and is the founder of Limmud NY — an organization that creates spaces to build and strengthen Jewish communities.

Dauber has reflected on her and Gringas’ roles as innovative Jewish teachers. “As educators, our instincts are to create environments in which we agree,” she said. “Ironically, disagreement and argument hold within them exactly the energy and passion that we, as a community of educators, should seek to engender.”

Gringas, a secular British-Israeli, is a theater performer, inspirational speaker, and teacher. He was the director of a theater company in London’s vibrant West End district and has since taken on a variety of educational roles, such as creative director of Makom, while continuing to pursue writing and theater.

“Today’s society shines away from disagreement, but Jewish tradition strongly encourages it as a way of reaching understanding, if not consensus,” he stated.

FSA was initially formulated at the Jewish Agency’s Makom: The Israel Education Lab with support from the Jim Joseph Foundation. The publication of Stories for the Sake of Argument, a collection of short stories written by Dauber Sterne and Gringas, was the first stage of the project.

The stories, which “emerged from a realization that the field of Israel education has changed” according to FSA’s website, touch on complex issues regarding Israel and the modern Jewish world. The book also includes tools and questions to incentivize healthy group discussions while reducing fears surrounding difficult conversations on Israel.

Where is the money going?

The two-year grant will further support Dauber Sterne and Gringas in their research on how to use arguments to build valuable connections to Israel and strengthen the acceptance of diverse opinions among Jewish communities.

“Arguments today are too often perceived as destructive and aggressive. We often avoid discussing the issues that are most important to us, for fear of causing discomfort,” said Gringras. “But growth cannot take place without disagreement.”

Dauber Sterne, who has dedicated her career to adding value to people’s Jewish lives, recognized the value that the grant will have in continuing her and Gringas’ innovative project. “We are so grateful that the Jim Joseph Foundation will be supporting this project in this research and pilot phase as they too seek to address the challenges facing our field.”

published in the Jerusalem Post

‘Conversations Across Difference’

An organization that promotes dialogue and understanding among people with different political and religious perspectives is expanding its partnership with Hillels to address tensions among Jewish students about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Elyza Veta, a recent graduate of New York University, was excited to go on a group trip to Israel in the middle of her sophomore year ​in 2020. The trip was sponsored by Birthright, a program that takes Jewish students and young professionals on free tours of Israel with the goal of promoting and strengthening their Jewish identity and their ties to Israel.

But things got off to a rocky start—the students got into heated debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It was sort of this looming thing throughout the whole trip,” Veta said. “And everyone sort of retreated to the people they knew agreed with them. You have all the anti-Zionists whispering in one corner, the Zionists whispering in another corner … The conversations were just breaking down at that point, and no one was talking about it in ways that were productive.”

Veta and a friend also on the trip decided they had to do something. Both had previously interned at an organization called Resetting the Table, which sends representatives to Hillels, centers of Jewish life on college campuses, to work with Jewish students experiencing frictions over differences in political perspectives or religious views, or to stave off possible tensions. Veta and her friend decided to hold a “dual narratives” workshop for their peers. The workshop was designed by the organization to teach politically diverse Jewish students techniques to discuss and empathize with multiple sides of the conflict. Veta said the tone of the trip shifted as a result.

“Everyone sort of felt this huge weight was lifted off their shoulders and off their chests,” she said. “The fact that we were all able to sit through this program, to understand where everybody was coming from and sort of be on the same page … No question that by the end of that, everybody came out more empathetic to the people they disagreed with.”

Participants on Elyza Veta’s Birthright trip in 2020

As tensions between Zionist and Palestinian student groups simmer at colleges across the country and rival protests erupt on campuses, Jewish students and employees involved in Hillel programs say there are also deep fissures on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict among Jewish students themselves, which leave some of them feeling alienated and obstruct productive dialogue on campuses at large.

Resetting the Table, which was founded to confront these problems, is helping Jewish college students navigate these rocky terrains. The organization, launched in 2014, also teaches dialogue skills at religious congregations and other settings. Its workshop exploring different Israeli and Palestinian narratives is especially popular.

Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, co-founding executive director of the organization, noted that Jewish students belong to various clubs on campuses focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ranging from Israel advocacy organizations to Palestinian rights groups, while others have feelings and opinions on the issue but don’t share them for fear of getting involved in the fray.

The goal isn’t to eliminate “profound differences” among students but to demonstrate that “people are writing each other off,” including people “that they can reach and engage in the right conditions with the right tools,” said Weintraub, who is also the former founding director of Encounter, an organization intended to expose Jewish leaders to diverse perspectives on the conflict. “We’re living in a cultural moment in which many of us are drawing our red lines too close to ourselves … It’s easy to see other people as beyond the pale and not worth speaking to before we’ve really tried.”

The organization works with the full spectrum of students. It also has politically diverse funders, including the Jim Joseph Foundation, which funds Jewish education programming; the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation, focused on social justice issues and building a more “pluralistic” Israeli society; and Maccabee Task Force, an Israel advocacy organization supported by the late conservative philanthropist Sheldon Adelson.

Kenneth Stern, who directs the Bard University Center for the Study of Hate, said Jewish students, and American Jews in general, are divided. Some see Israel as a historic safe haven for Jewish refugees and a critical part of their cultural or religious identities, while others see the government’s treatment of Palestinians as counter to their Jewish values. Stern wrote a book called The Conflict Over the Conflict (New Jewish Press, 2020), which explores why campus debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are so contentious.

“When your identity is tethered to an issue of perceived social justice or injustice, it becomes very, very powerful,” he said. “You try to reject the complexities. You try to reject the idea that there’s any justice on another side. You certainly don’t crave the emotional capacity to imagine if you were born into a different circumstance would you have felt differently. You get sort of poised to have the moral certainty that you’re right and jump into the fight.”

Training the Trainers

According to Weintraub, students aren’t the only ones who need coaching through these thorny issues. Resetting the Table has always worked with Hillel houses and Hillel International, their overarching organization, but it recently expanded its partnership with Hillel to include a new “train the trainers” program.

Over the course of six months, a dozen Hillel staff members learned to run dialogue workshops on their campuses. Starting next fall, Weintraub also plans to run shorter programs or “boot camps” for Hillel staff members followed by longer program opportunities.

“Every campus professional needs to be able to navigate political division and needs some tools and skill building,” she said.

Matthew Vogel, executive director of University of Vermont Hillel, said he previously wrestled with how to meaningfully engage with students about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The issue felt too fraught to him, especially on a campus where “the vast majority of students are really engaged in social justice,” which can cause some Jewish students involved in campus activism to feel wary of discussing Israel for fear of alienating their peers. He ended up avoiding the complexities of the topic altogether.

“I really felt like I sometimes struggled with the right language of how to talk about Israel on campus with also being inclusive to every single Jewish student who might want to walk in the door or engage with Hillel or engage with their Jewish identity,” he said. “So, in some ways, I didn’t say a lot, and I kept a lot of our programs more surface level.”

Vogel, who now runs Resetting the Table programs with both students and staff members, appreciated that the workshops “presented multiple narratives and let students compare their own perspectives and make up their own mind and their own relationship to a vastly complex issue.”

Naomi Fainchtein, an assistant director of American University Hillel who participated in the new training program for Hillel staff, said she was drawn to the opportunity at a time when religious and political divisions in general feel especially stark on her campus and nationwide.

“We live in incredibly polarizing times, and college campuses tend to be at the forefront of some of that polarization,” she said.

The intracommunal debates Hillel staff members are confronting are hardly new. For example, in 2013 a Jewish student movement called Open Hillel emerged to protest restrictions that outline which speakers and groups Hillel International will partner with to put on events. Those restrictions include not partnering with groups that support a boycott of Israeli businesses; that “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders”; that “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel”; or that “exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.” Open Hillel activists argued these standards were too restrictive to represent the full diversity of Jewish students’ views on the conflict.

Adina Danzig Epelman, vice president for engagement and impact at Hillel International, noted that Hillel’s partnership standards also include a commitment to “facilitate civil discourse about Israel in a safe and supportive college environment that is fertile for dialogue and learning” and allow individual Hillel houses to establish their own guidelines.

“Hillel has always been and continues to be committed to first welcoming all students regardless of point of view and ensuring that they feel included and a sense of belonging and that Hillel is a place they can express themselves as their whole selves,” she said.

She sees Hillel’s collaboration with Resetting the Table as a separate issue.

“Our Hillel professionals are saying again and again that this is the essential training they need to do the work in today’s world,” she said. “It provides them with skills and confidence to help students have conversations across difference in a way that’s respectful and builds relationships, which is increasingly important, because we’re living in a time when the political climate on campus is driving students with different worldviews into separate and sometimes warring enclaves.”

‘Peace Building’ On and Off Campus

The alternative to productive dialogue is students shutting down and “melting like ice cubes” when they hear contrary opinions on Israel in classrooms or bristling during Shabbat dinners that turn into heated political debates instead of engaging in challenging but potentially meaningful conversations, said Jenna Citron Schwab, executive director of Queens College Hillel.

When this happens, “what they can’t do is actually talk about their own relationship to Israel as a Jewish person,” she said. After introducing regular dialogue trainings for Jewish student leaders about a decade ago, she’s noticed more students “have the tools for being able to hear hard things and then also be able to share their own story without feeling like they need to be defensive or stand up for something.”

She wants students to feel more at ease discussing Israel with each other and also with non-Jewish peers, especially on a campus such as Queens College, whose student body is racially, ethnically and religiously diverse. She doesn’t want students to miss out on the educational benefits of engaging with that pluralism.

“There’s a lot of differences on our campus,” she said. But “diversity doesn’t mean you ever engage with the diversity. It just means it’s diverse. When they walk past their peers on the quad, who look or speak or eat or pray differently than they do, do they feel comfortable and have the tools to engage with them in a meaningful way?”

Weintraub believes her organization’s workshops are about more than defusing tensions within Jewish campus communities but a step toward broader “peace building.”

“Without creating a different kind of argument and without creating an opportunity for people to push and challenge each other across their silos and echo chambers, we wouldn’t amass the intelligence and wisdom and creativity that we need to solve problems.”

“Conversations Across Difference,” Sara Weissman, Inside HigherEd, June 3, 2022

A New Group is Providing R&R for Burnt-Out CEOs of Jewish Nonprofits

Idit Klein has been at the helm of Keshet, the Jewish LGBTQ+ organization, since 2001. Over the course of her tenure, she has been able to carve out time for two sabbaticals — July-September 2013 and July-August 2021 — and each time returned to what she described as a “more resilient and sustainable” organization.

“My colleagues had the opportunity to step up in new ways in my absence, stretch in new directions and explore new capacities,” she said. “I believe sabbaticals are vital, not only to give the CEO the opportunity to rest, re-energize, and renew but to strengthen the leadership of others in the organization.”

The reenergizing potential of sabbaticals, especially at a time of rising concern over pandemic burnout, is the guiding motivation of R&R: The Rest of Our Lives, a new organization offering three-month paid sabbatical grants to a handful of CEOs and directors of Jewish nonprofits.

“We’re talking about a group of humans who are service-oriented, purpose-driven [and] are very good at serving others,” R&R Founder Josh Feldman said. “They have often — to their own detriment — worked beyond their own capacity for years, or even decades. So this is somebody who, in their own self-evaluation, is able to say, ‘This is the right timing for me.’”

Feldman said R&R is the first organization to provide sabbatical grants to the Jewish communal sector on a national scale, and expects to offer five organizations a total of $60,000 each — $50,000 for the awardees to rest, travel, reflect or renew for a minimum of three consecutive months while maintaining their current salary and benefits; and $10,000 to support interim leaders and staff in the CEO’s absence.

The sabbatical grants will be awarded by September, with recipients required to take the sabbatical within the following calendar year. The recipients will also come together in a national cohort, which Feldman hopes will provide them with added value.

“We’ve seen over the last two years, people are deeply connected to each other’s lives across time zones and geography. And even though perhaps Zoom fatigue is on the top of some people’s list for the reasons they need rest, there’s also a real sophistication now to how we can be in community across distance.”

Before founding R&R, Feldman was the founding director of Hillel’s Springboard Fellowship, a two-year paid program for emerging leaders. After learning about the Los Angeles-based Durfee Foundation, which grants paid sabbaticals to local nonprofit CEOs, he wondered if such a model might work for Jewish nonprofits. He developed the idea and applied for 2020’s Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund (JCRIF) grants, funding from a coalition of major Jewish groups that allied to respond to a range of needs during the pandemic. While JCRIF didn’t select the project for a grant, the proposal caught the attention of an anonymous donor who offered seed funding if Feldman would lead the initiative.

R&R currently has two staff members — Feldman and experienced nonprofit professional Rachel Zieleniec, who most recently worked for the Honeymoon Israel Foundation as program director. The group’s budget for the current fiscal year is $400,000, a figure that will rise to $650,000 in the coming year, when the grants will be awarded. The project is fiscally sponsored by the Social Good Fund, a California nonprofit, and funded by individual donors, the Jim Joseph Foundation and RiseUp, a social justice initiative funded by the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

“Burnout happens when perceived obligations outweigh perceived resources,” Betsy Stone, a retired psychologist who is an adjunct lecturer at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and has written previously about burnout at Jewish nonprofits, told eJP. “It actually doesn’t matter if I have the resources, it only matters if I believe I have the resources. And if I believe I don’t have the resources, what tends to happen to us is that other people try to convince us that we do, which generally doesn’t work. Over the course of this pandemic what has really happened has been a huge explosion in responsibilities without an explosion in resources.”

Feldman said the post-pandemic moment has people thinking differently about the future of work and the workplace. Beyond sabbaticals, organizations may offer their staff continued flexibility around work hours and location to make sure that employees are psychologically safe and healthier, he told eJP.

“The audacious goal here, what R&R is after, is what if after a week, month or year of our work, we felt healthier partly because of the organizations we worked in?” he said. “There is a new zeitgeist around rest and rejuvenation. We hope that many communities start to support their grantees and grant recipients with rest-based solutions. There needs to be an entire ecosystem supporting the rest and rejuvenation of workers. And there will be a need that far surpasses their resources unless it’s made a major priority.”

Applications for R&R sabbatical grants are now open to CEOs or people in an equivalent leadership position who have been in their current role at least three years, have at least seven years of professional leadership experience in the nonprofit sector and report directly to the board of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or fiscally-sponsored project. In addition, applicants’ organizations must have at least five full-time staff members, to ensure that the organization can continue operating in the CEO’s absence. Applicants for sabbatical grants must also demonstrate financial need to underwrite the candidate’s leave, meaning larger organizations with large budgets may be less likely to be selected.

“There may be an organization [that] doesn’t have the financial resources themselves for this program to work,” Feldman said. “Does their executive and their entire staff deserve rest? Yes. But that doesn’t mean this model will be right for every organization.”

R&R is “operating through an equity lens,” Feldman said. Toward that end, R&R is encouraging CEOs who are Black, indigenous and people of color; LGBTQ+ individuals; people with disabilities, and women and other leaders with underrepresented identities to apply for sabbaticals.

Keshet’s Klein praised R&R’s mission, adding that all Jewish nonprofit employees should have the opportunity to take a sabbatical.

“It is extraordinary to see this investment in CEO sabbaticals, and I’d love to see organizations invest in sabbaticals for all staff, no matter their position,” Klein said. “Rest is essential for everyone, and the whole organization benefits when staff can renew their energies.”

“I want the CEO of [a federation] to feel like she’s being treated well, but I want everyone else in that organization to feel that way, [for it to] be structured in a way that strengthens everyone,” Stone agreed. “After the CEO gets time off, do they figure out how to give other people time off?”

Feldman called the CEO grants “just a start,” and “part of a broader focus we need on rest, recovery and rejuvenation for nonprofit workers. But we have to start somewhere, and we have to start now because the need is so great.” R&R plans to partner with philanthropists and foundations in the coming months and years to scale initiatives to meet the needs of more Jewish nonprofit professionals.

“Do we want to offer additional sabbaticals and other rest-based rejuvenation programs?” he said. “Absolutely, and long-term [we] will look to do so, with entry-level through senior leaders.”

Feldman hopes R&R’s efforts will prompt nonprofit leaders to make rest-based practices and policy, such as sabbaticals, the norm for their organizations. As an example, Feldman named the progressive group social change group Bend the Arc, which offers sabbaticals to all staff for every seven years of employment.

R&R identifies sabbaticals as “our leading intervention,” but says others are to come, like a deck of rest-themed cards, meant to prompt individuals, teams and organizations to think about rest — or as Feldman says, “micro moments of rest and rejuvenation” — every day. For example, he recommends making meetings 50 minutes instead of an hour; being clear around the hours when people must be in communication with each other; and making sure that professionals are focused on strategies that help them achieve their mission.

Feldman literally walks the walk of his organization’s raison d’etre; he goes on walks daily and hikes in the mountains of western Massachusetts, and one of R&R’s consulting “interventions” is something called a “walkshop”—a guided walk that can be done outside or inside, with an R&R facilitator issuing prompts while participants walk in silence, giving them the opportunity to move, occupy the space around them and think creatively.

“We believe our primary role is to help soften the ground so that organizations and cultures begin to have a different orientation towards rest,” he said. “Ultimately, we can help move the entire society, because we know that the existential threats we face are bigger than ever, and how we’re going to solve those is not just going to be through new methodologies and new ways of working, it’s going to be in the way we take care of people so that our best, brightest and hardest-working folks in the nonprofit sector can have the energy and resolve to work on all of this.”

Source: eJewish Philanthropy 

A new $1.8 million fellowship emphasizes diversity in Jewish educational research

The $1.8 million, four-year grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation to CASJE, also seeks to broaden what counts as Jewish education and who it serves.

What does the phrase “Jewish education” bring to mind?

Perhaps it conjures an image of a Jewish day school, a Hebrew school or a synagogue program. And odds are the people sitting in it are children. Starting next year, a new research fellowship will aim to change that image — or at least add texture to it, eJewishPhilanthropy has learned. The two-year fellowship for six people with doctorates in education or related fields will be run by the Collaborative for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE) and funded by a grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation.

CASJE, which is housed at The George Washington University, aims to elevate the field of Jewish education through academic research. The $1.8 million, four-year grant from Jim Joseph, however, also seeks to broaden what counts as “Jewish education” and who it serves. The project hopes to “reflect the diversity of the Jewish communities in the United States,” according to a statement. It aims to accomplish that both by studying a wide range of topics and by recruiting fellows from across the academic world, not just from the doctoral programs in Jewish education that exist at schools such as Stanford University, New York University and Jewish denominational seminaries.

“We know that who does the research matters, and different researchers have different perspectives and lived experiences,” Stacie Cherner, director of learning and evaluation at Jim Joseph, told eJP. “I think that we want to make sure that research is representative of the diverse perspectives of the Jewish community and all that entails.”

By ‘diversity,” the program is referring not just to a range of backgrounds and identities — such as Jews of color, LGBTQ Jews or Jews with disabilities. It also seeks to widen the range of educational programs studied. There hasn’t been a lot of research into Jewish education in youth groups, or educational initiatives targeting Jewish grandparents, said Ben Jacobs, a professor of experiential Jewish education at GWU and co-chair of CASJE’s advisory board.

“We definitely want the fellows to seek out things that people aren’t talking about, because that opens up new possibilities,” Jacobs told eJP. “We’re trying to get more research in some of those less-researched areas that nonetheless are powerful educational venues.”

The fellows will be divided into two cohorts that will begin in subsequent years, with the first trio beginning in fall 2023. Because the fellowship is for applied studies, it will emphasize what Jacobs called “things that have immediate ramifications for the way things are done on the ground.” Each of the fellows will be paired with a faculty mentor and will focus their research on one specific Jewish educational institution while looking to glean insights that apply to a broader swath of the Jewish educational world. “When you’re doing a doctorate, it’s all about specialization,” Jacobs said. “You’re becoming an expert in your area. A program such as this provides an opportunity to expand your horizons in different ways.”

Cherner added that she hopes at least some of the fellows continue working in Jewish educational institutions, rather than just studying them, after the fellowship ends.

The fellowship aims “to encourage people who have the knowledge and the skills that come with a doctorate in education to think about the Jewish communal field as a place to work. Another goal is for Jewish communal organizations to think about creating roles for people with this knowledge base and mindset,” Cherner said. “I think if these students think outside of academia as a place to work in the future, that would be great.”

Source: eJewish Philanthropy

Who Will Teach Our Children and Grandchildren?

This piece on the crisis regarding the shortage of Jewish educators is authored by members of ADCA, the Association of Directors of Communal Agencies for Jewish Education from around the country: Rabbi Scott Aaron, PhD; Tzipi Altman-Shafer; Peter Eckstein; Dr. Gil Graff; Rabbi Mordechai Harris; Marlyn Bloch Jaffe; Lawrence M. Katz; Amian Frost Kelemer; Lisa Klein; Dr. Julie Lieber; Elana Rivel; Rabbi Arnold D. Samlan; Dana Sheanin; Susan H. Wachsstock; and Rabbi Efrat Zarren-Zohar

The crisis that we knew was coming is here. Jewish day schools, early childhood centers and part-time congregational schools across the country face a shortage of educators to fill multiple openings for lead teachers, assistants and substitutes. This is no longer simply a “challenge.” Rather, it is a crisis because of continuing trends in the overall job market, exacerbated by the pandemic.

In day schools, the teacher shortage is felt deeply in the challenge of finding Jewish studies and Hebrew language teachers. In early childhood programs, where Jewish engagement and connection for families are established, the shortage of teachers is compounded by the low wages typically paid to those in this field. Congregational schools face the same challenges as day schools in finding Jewish studies and Hebrew language teachers, and schools often are left with enthusiastic but untrained members of the community as teachers.

What can we do to find solutions to this crisis? How might we as a Jewish community work together to ensure that there will be well-trained and inspiring teachers to teach our children and grandchildren?

A recently released research report from CASJE on Jewish educators shows that fewer new teachers are entering education and more current teachers are leaving. Covid has worsened the teacher exit; some teachers did not feel safe teaching in person and left or opted for early retirement.  Burnout is also a contributing factor to teachers leaving the field. Feelings of being overworked and underpaid have only increased during the pandemic.

National data shows teachers make about 20 percent less than other professionals with similar education and experience. That percentage gap is even higher in Jewish educational settings, especially early childhood.

Recruitment and retention of educators demands both professional development and material support. Jewish federations and communal agencies for Jewish education have undertaken a variety of initiatives to address local needs. National programs, such as the Mandel Teacher Educator Institute (MTEI) and Jewish New Teacher Project (JNTP), have supported and encouraged educators’ professional growth. Despite these positive efforts, the CASJE study points to the reality that more is required.

ADCA, the Association of Directors of Communal Agencies for Jewish Education, representing cities throughout the continent, shares local efforts through ongoing communication and collaboration and has organized collective opportunities for the professional growth of educators. Its members have worked with national foundations and institutions to address aspects of the growing teacher shortage in Jewish education. Yet, more is needed.

We welcome publication of the CASJE study as the start of a national conversation that brings funders and educational leaders together to propose and develop new and strengthened approaches to addressing the recruitment and retention crisis in multiple sectors of Jewish education. Well-conceived initiatives, collaboratively developed and implemented in national and local partnership can surely make a difference. Such initiatives – as inattention to the presenting crisis – will have an impact for generations.

originally published in eJewish Philanthropy

Wexner Field Fellows Class Six

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

The Wexner Foundation, in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation, is pleased to announce Class 6 of the Wexner Field Fellowship. Crucial support and professional development continue to be necessary during the pandemic and from a competitive application pool wanting to engage in this work, 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 55 Alumni.

COMPLETE LIST OF CLASS 6 FELLOWS

  • Sarah Abramson: Senior Vice President, Strategy and Impact, CJP, Boston, MA
  • Rachel Faulkner: Director of Community Investments, Safety Respect Equity Network, Washington, DC
  • Ron Gubitz: Executive Director, Tulane Hillel, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Jon Hornstein: Program Director, Jewish Community, US, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Baltimore, MD
  • Ari Levy: Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Hillel International, Washington, DC
  • Erica Phillips: Program Officer, Crown Family Philanthropies, Chicago, IL
  • Aaron Potek: Senior Rabbi and Executive Director of Jewish Life, Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, Washington, DC
  • Rachel Robinson: Director of Individual Giving, Reconstructing Judaism, Wyncote, PA
  • Melissa Rosen: Director of Strategic Engagement & Operations, Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, New York, NY
  • Sara Sideman: Director of the JCC Camps at Medford, Katz Jewish Community Center, Cherry Hill, New Jersey
  • Scott Topal: Director of Operations, Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, Chicago, IL
  • Aviva Walls: Head of School, Gesher JDS, Fairfax, Virginia
  • Amy Weiss: Director of Jewish Communal Engagement and Learning, OLAM, Washington, DC
  • Sara Wolkenfeld: Chief Learning Officer, Sefaria, Chicago, IL
  • Terry Wunder: Director of Community Engagement, Temple Solel, Cardiff-by-the Sea, California

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 6 will come together through intensive institutes where they will be exposed to Jewish educational and professional growth opportunities, while addressing their unique needs of career and personal progress.

“We are so impressed with the new cohort of dynamic Jewish Professionals. Their commitment and creative visions for the Jewish future inspire me deeply. We are particularly proud to partner with the Jim Joseph Foundation to provide support for our Field Fellows at this challenging crossroad in Jewish communal life,” said Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson, President of The Wexner Foundation. “These transformational leaders will add powerfully to the community of Wexner Fellows and Alumni shaping the Jewish future.”

As with the first five classes of Field Fellows, Class 6 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.

“The Wexner Foundation provides such vital support to leaders who will shape the future of Jewish life and learning,” says Barry Finestone, President and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation. “These 15 talented new Fellows will begin the journey of a lifetime – gaining new skills, engaging in learning opportunities, and building an incredible network of alumni to help them positively influence the lives of countless youth and young adults for years.”

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.

Learn more at Wexnerfoundation.org

A Jewish Education Marketplace for All

By Susan Wachsstock

While we have always known the power of technology, it took a pandemic for many of us to fully realize the power that technology could have. During these last 18 months, a great deal of communal commitment and creativity resulted in myriad new ways to virtually connect to Jewish life.

Mid-pandemic, in May of 2021, Pew released its most recent study on the Jewish community. It once again highlighted that how people Jewishly identify is different than in previous generations, devoting the first five chapters of the report speaking to identity and affiliation. Reflecting on this research, we as communal leaders must acknowledge that Jewish identity is complex and the composition of the Jewish family is more complex than in the past. The proliferation of Jewish opportunities online amplifies and underscores Pew’s message: Today, people connect to Jewish life, belief and practice in different ways.

The Jewish Education Project has always sought to create meaningful Jewish learning experiences that transform the lives of young Jews and their families. And so, putting these two big ideas together—ubiquitous use of technology and the changing nature of Jewish community—it is both timely and necessary that we are launching Truvie, our online Jewish learning platform, to reach as many of today’s Jews through the medium that they are so familiar with.

When we look at the shape and structure of how, where, and when Jewish education happens, it does not look so different than when I was a child in the 1970s/80s. If you want any sort of “formal” Jewish education you can, generally, choose from a day school or a Hebrew school, the vast majority of which are associated with congregations. For many children and families this model not only works but helps learners thrive within a life-long supportive community.

But this does not work for everyone. We know from a study conducted by the Steinhardt Foundation that only 50% of Jewish youth are engaged in religious school or day school[1]. Simply, this statistic means we are not offering educational experiences that speak to the needs and realities of all members of our community.

How can we shape a community and offer Jewish educational opportunities that engage and inspire Jews with diverse identities? How can we become comfortable with the idea that we can, we must, encourage connection and Jewish education in the ways we have for decades and in ways that are new and relevant to those who do not feel reflected in our current landscape? How do we foster numerous doorways (and windows) as gateways to Jewish education and engagement?

COVID accelerated our search for these answers, forcing us to become better acquainted with online educational approaches. As part of this learning, we spent the last year exploring various educational marketplaces such as Outschool, Kahn Academy, and Masterclass. While each provides something different, each is also designed around a shared value: the consumer will choose what works for them. We wondered if we could design a Jewish educational marketplace that similarly supported the level of choice, convenience, and flexibility embedded within these platforms. We also considered how to do this in the context of Jewish education so the resulting marketplace supported pluralism, excellence, and diversity. We learned that online engagement does not mirror the qualities of in-person educational experiences, but that online learning can provide meaningful, creative and engaging educational experiences.

So, we set out to develop a Jewish educational marketplace that makes it easy for families to “choose their own adventure.” The result of this work and experimentation is Truvie (a play on Lucky Find in French.) Launching with a three-month beta period on October 18, and an initial focus on 3rd – 8th graders, this new learning marketplace will allow both individual educators and organizations to offer short (aka learners register for a series of weeks rather than for a full school year or semester) synchronous courses. Teachers will have the freedom to create the courses and content they wish to teach, at the time they wish to teach it, at the price point they suggest. Parents will be empowered to chart their child’s unique Jewish journeys, encompassing the full spectrum of their vibrant and varied interests. For children and families with unique passions and pursuits, Truvie will (following the beta period) allow learners to engage in continuous learning while pursuing their passions (think specialty camping year-round.) Truvie will live at the intersection of identity and innovation, providing content-rich, hands-on experiences infused with Jewish spirit and culture from accomplished educators. Truvie will allow for Jewish learning—and Jewish teaching—from a kitchen table, a family room, from Portland, Dallas, and Topeka. Wherever there’s Wifi in North America (for now) Truvie will be accessible.

Through the ideation and development process, we recognized that Truvie can be an open marketplace…and a valuable tool to organizations seeking to offer their community additional or different virtual content. (The site will allow for private, co-branded spaces accessible only to organizational community members.) So Truvie will also offer a unique set of features for camps, congregations, JCC’s and others that seek to leverage the technology and the open marketplace.

At the heart of Jewish education is joy and the belief that Judaism – however you connect with it and identify—enhances your life, helps you be a better person, and enriches your understanding of the world. As we emerge from the joyous month of Tishrei, what better way to renew our commitment to Jewish life, history, peoplehood, practice, culture…. than to foster new means for our youth to discover the beauty and joy of Jewish life.

Susan Wachsstock is chief program officer at The Jewish Education Project. Truvie is partially funded by the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund (JCRIF).

[1] These numbers were derived from a statistical analysis of the landscape conducted 4 years ago by the Steinhardt Foundation. Based on communal studies it was estimated that there were approximately 85,000 students in each cohort, 68,891 who are non-Orthodox. Based on enrolment in 6th grade at the time 26,334 of these non-Orthodox youth were engaged in supplementary schools (38.2%), 2,509 in day schools (3.6%) and 39,281 (58.1%) engaged in neither form of formal education.

originally published in eJewishPhilanthropy

CASJE’s latest paper reveals staffing shortage at supplementary schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

originally published in eJewish Philanthropy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Online Experiences Impact Jewish Outcomes? New Data Says Yes

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

By Ami Eden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So…

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

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

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

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

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

Who are we having the most impact with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

originally published in eJewish Philanthropy