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.
By Malka Levitansky and Hallie Shapiro on March 20th, 2017
We’re all looking for that magic formula. That unique program, experience or methodology that will somehow not only engage Jewish teens in the present, but also keep them Jewishly involved on college campus and beyond.
Foundations, Jewish federations and individuals invest millions of dollars a year in engaging the next generation of Jews. At the same time, there are tens of thousands of Jewish youth professionals, some affiliated with youth groups and others with Jewish organizations, working in the trenches to reach Jewish teens and connect them to their heritage.
And there are educators, and consultants, and other experts contributing their expertise and then evaluating all of these efforts in search of answers.
But the solution seems to be eluding us.
Perhaps it’s because we are looking in the wrong place. Maybe it’s not about the what, or where, or how often, but the rather, it’s about the who.
Case in point: Big Apple Adventure
Last month, Midwest NCSY had the opportunity to run a 5-day immersive experience as part of Springboard, a community initiative created with support from the Jim Joseph Foundation, the JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and a consortium of local funders, to introduce more teens in Chicago to high-quality Jewish programs.
Last March, Springboard released an RFP asking local organizations to create new and exciting school-break experiences that would increase the number of teens actively engaged in Jewish life. Midwest NCSY submitted a proposal that would bring 45 teens to New York for five days of fun and inspiration, including visiting local attractions, touring the Jewish community, volunteering at Jewish nonprofits, and celebrating a traditional Shabbat.
Initially, NCSY planned to pattern the trip after its existing Jewish Student Union (JSU) trips, in which public school teens who participate in JSU clubs on public school campuses travel to other communities for fun, learning and Jewish inspiration. But it soon became apparent that Big Apple Adventure was going to be something different entirely because of the deep partnership between NCSY and JUF—which not only provided the financial backing, but also support and guidance from a variety Jewish youth professionals, consultants, marketing experts and many others, every step of the way.
Here are some specific examples of how the partnership shaped—and impacted—the ultimate program:
We’re proud to report that the trip was far more successful than we ever could have imagined. In the blog written by the teens themselves on the trip, many spoke of the “meaning” and “connection” the trip had engendered. Many of the parents expressed the same sentiment, especially after being able to watch the teens in action in New York, during Facebook Live events. As one parent remarked, “I feel so fortunate that my child received this opportunity to embrace and love her Jewish heritage.”
So was Big Apple Adventure a unique program? We’d like to think so. Are there aspects of it that other Jewish teen professionals can learn from? We believe there are.
But of one thing we are certain: The trip worked because it was a partnership; we were in it together. And by pooling our knowledge, creativity, expertise – and shared commitment to truly inspire today’s youth – we made it happen.
Malka Levitansky is Grants and Marketing Manager of Midwest NCSY. Hallie Shapiro is Associate Vice President of Community Outreach and Engagement at JUF.