February 14th, 2010
In January, Jewish educators across the denominational spectrum and representing all grade levels, academic fields, and geographic regions convened for a landmark North American conference. The Jim Joseph Foundation, which values the dynamism of the Jewish faith and its fundamentally pluralistic character, believes that such educational professionals as these who gathered at last month’s conference are essential actors in the unfolding story of contemporary Judaism.
JJF generously funds educator preparation and professional development. In the four years since its inception, the Foundation has awarded twenty-three percent of its grants to support educator certification, credentialing, and teacher induction. While JJF recognizes the impact of technological advances and deinstitutionalization on the operation of today’s schools, we believe that the role of educators will remain crucial in inspiring others to engage in ongoing Jewish learning.
Eminent historian Jonathan Sarna notes that revitalization of Judaism is often sparked by discontinuities and disruptions in conventional practice. We now live in a networked world in which “nodes” and “hubs” have replaced “central addresses” as the bases on which communities are formed and enlivened. This is especially relevant for younger generations. People move fluidly in and out of relationships with unprecedented freedom of access. For Jews, this freedom also comes with the ability to define one’s engagement with Jewish traditions, text, and Israel as the individual desires. This fluid activity occurs in an historically unparalleled environment of openness – one which features open networks and systems as well as open-sourcing and non-proprietary production of intellectual property.
Duke University School of Law professor James Boyle comments that “It is not that openness is always right. Rather, it is that we need a balance between open and closed, owned and free, and we are systematically likely to get the balance wrong.”
What JJF is confronting is an imperative to be flexible and to appreciate that the very nature of education is changing. The Foundation, its funding partners, and the grantees it serves must talk with one another about a mutable Jewish world. The shift from the printing press to the internet is tectonic. Surely, it will take a community of problem solvers such as those who gathered at the North American Jewish Day School Leadership Conference to help chart the flourishing future of Judaism to which we are all committed.