From the Foundation Team

April 2010

April 14th, 2010

We recently asked Jim Joseph Foundation grantees to carefully assess the number of beneficiaries these organizations are educating as a by-product of JJF funding. The results of these efforts are displayed in the attached charts. As always, I welcome your review of these data and appreciate your comments.

Despite obvious limits, the matter of counting children, teens and young adults involved in Jewish learning remains nonetheless an important measure of the Foundation’s funding at work. There is a complementary responsibility to describe the nature of learning that occurs as well as to account for its quality. Ultimately, JJF and its grantee partners aspire to demonstrate positive effects of the extraordinarily diverse forms of educational engagement that JJF grantee organizations offer.

Meanwhile, the frantic pace of remarkable technological innovation combined with changing Jewish demographics and an evolving sociology of the life cycle impact Jewish education in profound ways. Accessibility to a staggering body of rich Jewish content is easy, and often free. Individuals can—and indeed do—learn in real time, anytime. Peer learning is becoming more common. Experiential, life-long learning is burgeoning.

This dynamic environment presents funders with exceptional opportunities to contribute to a veritable renewal of Jewish learning. Along with meeting current challenges, JJF strives to understand the most impactful ways to direct resources to organizations which serve Jewish young adults. We have developed both a framework and strategy for JJF’s philanthropy in this area, which Board chair Al Levitt will articulate briefly at a session the Foundation is sponsoring at the upcoming Jewish Funders’ Network annual conference. This forum will give our community a chance to hear directly from Hillel and Birthright NEXT. Both organizations are major JJF grantees. Each benefits from independent, formative evaluations which evidence success of Hillel’s campus entrepreneur/senior educator and NEXT’s alumni engagement efforts. I welcome you to interact with Hillel CEO Wayne Firestone and NEXT Executive Director Daniel Brenner and to discuss with them your reactions to their organizations’ strategies for garnering young adults’ attention and involving them in meaningful Jewish learning.

Hillel’s initiative and Birthright NEXT represent a continuum of Jewish learning for young adults ages 18-30. With Hillel, we see an example of a traditional organization that has dramatically re-engineered its approach to engaging its constituents, while capitalizing on its deep understanding of how college-age students encounter the world and explore and construct their Jewish identity. NEXT, on the other hand, has shown us how a new organization can seize the opportunity Birthright’s unparalleled success has created in connecting 20-somethings to pluralistic, relevant, and diverse expressions of contemporary Judaism.

I hope many of you will find time to join us at the JFN conference. I look forward, as always, to sharing time with valued colleagues.