From the Foundation Team

July 2010

July 14th, 2010

The Jim Joseph Foundation just completed its 19th board meeting since its inception in 2006. After an extended period of major, multi-year grant giving, Directors paused at this meeting to reflect on a host of important grant making issues which are embedded in the Foundation’s growing philanthropic portfolio. One of the topics of immediate concern to the Foundation is its philanthropy in support of Israel education.

The Foundation has invested significantly in Israel education. It is one of the founding funders of the iCenter. This past year, in partnership with Spertus College, the iCenter offered the first program in North America that will confer Israel education certificates to 14 professional educators in 2011. Among the organizations whose educators are enrolled in the program are individuals from Birthright NEXT, Hillel, PresenTense, March of the Living and a URJ residential camp. JJF has also awarded millions of dollars to the only regional day school Israel education initiative in the country, supporting eleven Bay area Jewish day schools (on twelve campuses) in a comprehensive effort to enable them to institutionalize a sequenced program of Israel education in their school’s curriculum. More than 3,500 young adults’ Birthright trips have been funded by JJF grants to the Birthright Foundation.

JJF’s funding of Israel education comes in many forms. The Brandeis Summer Institute in Israel education is funded by our foundation. During the past several summers, 30 of 89 participants have been subsidized by JJF grants. BBYO’s first cohort of Professional Development Institute employees are currently studying in Israel. The Shalom Hartman Institute pre-service educators funded by JJF spend three years studying in Israel. Two of the three seminary graduate programs in education to which JJF has made major grants include Israel immersion experiences. JJF is also a major contributor to the updating of Shalom Sesame. We support the development of an Israel-Diaspora Peoplehood Index Project that has been pilot tested in the Washington DC community and will be ready for distribution and use this calendar year. In addition, JJF provides scholarships for Nesiya participants and underwrites a scholar-in-residence at this summer’s PresenTense Israel seminar. Our Foundation’s support of Israel education is both broad and deep.

JJF recognizes that in the court of public opinion, Israel’s actions are all too often subjected to a double standard. It is clear to us that coordinated efforts exist to both demonize and delegitimize the state of Israel. We are, of course, cognizant of divestiture initiatives and aware of college campus activity in which demonstrations of virulent anti-Israel sentiment occur.

There is a strong impulse in our foundation to advocate for Israel. However, in careful deliberations on several occasions now, JJF has consciously determined that its grant making in support of Israel must take the form of philanthropy that advances Israel education. (Please see the attached grid which details key attributes of both effective Israel education as well as effective Israel advocacy.) In taking this position, JJF affirms its conviction that the educator plays a critical role in transmitting facts and providing learners ready access to diverse educational resources — many of which may well manifest competing claims and conflicting opinions on complex matters. It is not, in other words, JJF’s intention to make grants to support organizations that consciously promote predetermined positions on substantive matters of concern to the Jewish people. As iCenter advisor Joshua Yarden notes, “If the role of the educator can be understood as advocating for anything at all, it would be to protect the right of learners to realize their own potential to become who they have the potential to become.”

One of the genuine challenges foundation professionals and Directors confront is to adhere persistently to the foundation mission they serve, regardless of personal opinions they may hold on topics that sometimes are at the very center of their lives. Israel-Diaspora relations, Jewish peoplehood, and infusing Jewish learning with historically accurate, compelling information on the founding of Israel and its role in the Middle East — these are among the most pressing and perplexing of the content areas in any contemporary program of Jewish learning. The Foundation aspires to fund education that isn’t about taking sides per se but rather learning which, in the words of Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz, “Lays the basis for continued learning by raising new questions, enlarging possibilities, developing new insights, and fostering the skills and dispositions needed for future learning.”