From the Executive Director

Reflections on Israel Education as 5775 Approaches

By Chip Edelsberg on September 2nd, 2014

With Rosh Chodesh Elul upon us and the High Holidays approaching, the Jim Joseph Foundation is preparing for the 40th meeting of its Board of Directors. The Foundation will devote the very first part of its two days of deliberations to discussing how the Foundation might respond, philanthropically, in the aftermath of the war in the Middle East – amid concerns about surging expressions of conspicuous anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment.

In anticipation of this upcoming Board discussion, the Foundation’s professional team took stock of the Foundation’s current funding of Israel education and Israel education-related programs and projects. The Birthright Israel Foundation is the beneficiary of $31M of Jim Joseph Foundation funding. Brandeis University’s Summer Institute for Israel Studies has received $1.8M of support during six years of Foundation funding. Directors have awarded $1.45M to UC Berkeley’s Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies. (An upcoming blog by Senior Program Officer Dawne Bear Novicoff will detail this and other Bay Area Foundation-funded Israel Education initiatives.) The Foundation is one of the founding funders of the Israel Institute, granting $1.4M to an organization that works in partnership with leading academic, research and cultural institutions to enhance knowledge and study of modern Israel in the U.S. and around the world.  In addition, a number of beneficiaries of the Foundation receive funds to support educators in immersive Israel experiences.

Along with support for these vitally important institutions, the Foundation believes strongly in the strategic approach of building a field. The iCenter—devoted exclusively to Israel education and field building of it—is integral to the Foundation’s Israel-related grantmaking. Through its Master’s Concentration Program in Israel Education, 79 individuals from seven different institutions of higher education have been certified as Israel educators. Another 31 educators are currently in the fourth cohort of this unique program, learning directly from pioneers and leaders in the field. Additionally, last week, the iCenter collaborated with Taglit, the Birthright Israel Foundation, and NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation to train 97 adults in the first class of the Maimonides Fund-supported “Taglit Fellowship Program” (another 100 individuals will participate in a second training in February, 2015.) The Fellows were selected from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants to form an elite cadre of U.S. Taglit-Birthright Israel trip leaders. The four-day seminar included Jewish and Israel studies and skill-building workshops designed to help Fellows raise the standard of educational excellence during the trips, offering even more substantial and meaningful learning opportunities for Taglit-Birthright Israel participants.

At this very moment, the iCenter is an important resource to educators as students return to day and congregational schools, college campuses, and youth groups. Many of these students still are processing or trying to understand what they saw, heard, or thought during this summer’s deadly Israel-Hamas war. Educators play a pivotal role in this process, and the iCenter offers timely and substantive information, resources, and curricula to help them engage students and facilitate important discussions.

Perhaps nothing arouses more passion among the Jewish people than discussion of Israel. For the Foundation, its commitment to Israel education now amounts to approximately $40M of investment in nine years. With this most recent extended outbreak of violence in the Middle East, the future of the State of Israel is once again threatened by bellicose action.

As we prepare to welcome in 5775, the Foundation, recognizing the current situation for what it is, will reflect on its approaches to Israel education and Israel-related funding. We will continue to pursue smart strategies to advance an increasingly strong field and to support grantees that instill in increasing numbers of teens, youth, and young adults, deep, personal connections to Israel.

Shana Tovah - Wishing you a year of happiness and peace.

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The Jim Joseph Foundation invests in promising Jewish education grant initiatives. We partner with effective organizations that seek to inspire young people to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives.