Nitzan Network: Renewing Jewish Learning after School


Source: The Nitzan Network 


The purpose of the Nitzan Network is to support the renewal of Jewish learning after school. Network members support each other by sharing resources and practices, discussing successes and challenges, and collectively engaging national experts in the discussion pedagogy, curriculum, organization, and practice. Network members include professionals and lay leaders involved in emerging, developing, and established programs that are designed to renew Jewish learning after school. Affiliated programs offer or seek to offer afterschool programming multiple days per week.


The network was catalyzed by a small number of emerging programs in North America looking for a community of practice and support. The initial launch of the network was funded by the generous support of The Covenant Foundation and is being led by one of their grantees, the Edah program in Berkeley, California. We are in search of new members and additional funding to grow and sustain our budding (nitzan means flower bud) network.


Nitzan is currently made up of four categories of programs:

  • Pioneer programs include those who pioneered this program type and the network, offering models and leadership for the field (there are 7 of these in Nitzan). Each of these offer between 3 to 5 days a week of afterschool programming for their communities. Most have minimum numbers of days required for participation.

  • Transforming programs include those that are established as an organization or related program but are seeking to transform their offerings to include a multi-day afterschool program (there is 1 of these in Nitzan).

  • Emerging programs include those who are preparing to open a program or have opened a pilot program (there are currently 3 of these in Nitzan).

  • Exploring programs include those who are considering starting a program or are in the early planning/feasibility stage of program development (there are currently 8-10 of these who have been in touch with a Nitzan representative).

Rena Dorph, co founder of Edah and Nitzan Network writes in eJewish Philanthropy:

"Data from Nitzan, a network for renewing Jewish learning after school, indicates that collectively, approximately 1/3 the families they currently serve are not affiliated with a synagogue; another 1/3 are affiliated with non-denominational or non-traditional “synagogues” or spiritual communities; another 1/3 are members of denominational synagogues and went outside those structures to find a different kind of Jewish learning than what they offer. The early pioneering programs are also beginning to get some traction, with between 30-55 kids enrolled in multi-day K-5 afterschool programs in each of the most mature of these programs.


The leaders of such programs have specific challenges they face as they navigate this terrain. What does that terrain look like? These programs are all in start-up mode; none is fully financially viable. None is fully accepted within the Jewish organizational ecology of their locality. They are all working to make good on the proposition of high quality Jewish learning for children after school. Several focus attention on engaging participants’ families in learning opportunities as well. They run as much on the good will and pro-bono expertise of their founders and supporters as they do on professional staff. They run on the passion and commitment of their leaders. They struggle to find educators who can implement their vision with children and their families. Also worthy of note, each program disrupts the status quo within its community – unsettling the existing and delicate balance of supply and demand for Jewish learning experiences for children in grades K-5 that was assumed. While many start-up organizations share some of these challenges, the particular combination that these programs face could be fatal to each organization and to the budding movement the collectively represent.


In addition, this terrain is innovative in many ways. One aspect of the innovation is the model itself combines meeting the aftercare needs of 21st Century families with serious Jewish and Hebrew learning goals. In this way, the model captures audiences and opportunities (time, resources, etc.) that had been assumed lost to Jewish education. Pioneer programs are reaching far more unaffiliated, intermarried, and previously uninterested families than they anticipated in the first few years of their existence – and the potential is significant. Many parents’ expectations for the amount of time their child will spend in an after school program is in a different league than how they think about time spent on Jewish learning. Another aspect of the innovation is the variety of approaches to learning and teaching these programs are exploring and offering. Each program is figuring out ways to engage and enrich the Jewish learning and lives of the kids and families in their programs that speak to the needs and appetites of their local community."

Updated: Dec. 04, 2013