October 14th, 2010
At the Jim Joseph Foundation, I enjoy the professional privilege to work with a Board that guards against becoming an “either/or” funder. By this I mean that JJF’s six Directors do not dichotomize Jewish learning into misleading competing opposites. JJF’s Board members resist the temptation to make hard and fast distinctions between formal and informal (or experiential) education. They do not believe that funding established institutions should happen at the expense of supporting new high-performing organizations. Neither do they neglect proven programs for the sake of directing all of JJF’s resources to innovation. JJF’s Board is furthermore committed to understanding opportunities to enhance Jewish learning that capitalizes on the power of technology and new media – even as the foundation channels resources to fund time-honored formats in which effective Jewish learning has always occurred.
One of JJF’s current grant making efforts is its first-ever participation in an open Request for Proposal project entitled “The Jewish New Media Innovation Fund.” JJF is partnering with the Righteous Persons and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family foundations to encourage innovative use of new media tools as a way to engage the next generation more deeply in Jewish life, learning, culture, and community.
This fund seeks to award $500,000 in grants to nonprofits, individuals and for-profit ventures for digital media project design and implementation. The funders seek proposals that “leverage new media tools—including video, digital communications, social networks, and more—to empower Jews to interact with, share, build, and explore Jewish life and to contribute to a more vibrant, welcoming Jewish community in America” (See www.jewishnewmedia.org for complete information and the application).
The three foundations sponsoring this fund believe that innovators both within and outside of the so-called “organized Jewish community” are already making use of new media to enrich contemporary Jewish learning. A growing number of Jewish 501c3 start-ups and relatively young organizations are fostering Jewish learning and engagement by building on social network platforms and capitalizing on web and mobile technologies. At the same time, traditional Jewish institutions such as JCCs, synagogues, day schools, and higher education institutions are turning with increasing frequency to new media solutions to deliver instruction and to provide experiences that their users will find both meaningful and compelling.
We live in a time of dizzying change. Breakthroughs in communications and new media are its primary accelerators. Author Amy Kamenetz, commenting that “technology upsets the traditional hierarchies and categories of education,” also observes that “universities may be on the brink of a phase change from something monolithic to something more fluid: a sea of smaller, more specialized and diverse institutions offering a greater variety of learning opportunities, a cloud of ideas, texts, and conversations.” Kamenetz notes that “learning networks in previous decades were insular groups formed around academic journals, learned societies, and professional conferences. Today, galaxies of students, academics, professionals and amateurs are using blogs, wikis, presentation tools like Slideshare, YouTube videos, and e-mail lists to collaborate, pursue, and present knowledge in any discipline” (DIYU: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education).
Collaborating with talented professionals at the Righteous Persons and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family foundations has helped JJF broaden its understanding of how new media—in and out of conventional classroom settings—may be integral to Jewish learning. We hope that this new fund rewards innovators while educating funders about a world of Jewish learning that we suspect is far less hierarchical, institutionalized, and compartmentalized than ever before.