A Hub in a Network: A National Incubator for Community-Based Jewish Teen Education Initiatives

March 12, 2014

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


Recently, the Jim Joseph Foundation made an investment in a National Incubator for Community-Based Jewish Teen Education Initiatives to support the work of the local operators and facilitate ongoing learning and collaboration. With ongoing debate about the viability of national Jewish organizations in North American Jewish life, the Jim Joseph Foundation has made a modest investment to ensure cross-community support and learning (one key function of a national intermediary). Yet, it intentionally has not invested in building a new independent national nonprofit, opting instead to partner with an existing organization that has the appropriate expertise to operate the incubator.


The Jewish Education Project (formerly the Board of Jewish Education in New York), a beneficiary of UJA-Federation of NY, has been operating in the teen space for several years and we are excited to now be managing this incubator. We are proud that the Foundation selected us as a partner for this important project, and the opportunity it is providing us to build upon the existing work of our teen department to educate and engage Jewish teens. Our teen team looks forward to introducing these communities to some of the experts who have already helped our NY partners push the envelope on their thinking through partnerships with organizations like Systematic Inventive Thinking, Idea Connection System, Upstart, and the Disney Institute. While maintaining its commitment to working locally to engage Jewish youth, The Jewish Education Project is honored to accept this challenge to think and act globally (or at least nationally), serving an audience beyond New York City, in this and other initiatives.


In just a few months, amongst several other findings, the National Incubator for Community-Based Jewish Teen Education Initiatives is already learning that:

  • Communities believe that having a national voice at their local planning table brings valuable expertise and perspective, and helps to motivate their local stakeholders.
  • While each community is quite different and has its own idiosyncrasies, there are overarching themes around challenges they face that are clearly national trends, providing real opportunities for shared learning and collaboration. In all cases local funders are interested in serving the needs of all Jewish teens, but existing communal offerings are reaching a smaller than desired percentage (and declining).
  • Previously “siloed” local organizations show an interest in working together, but need support and guidance on how to rethink their strategies as they attempt to work as a collective.
  • Jewish youth professionals crave more professional development opportunities and exhibit a commitment to their chosen profession longer than their agencies are often able to support their career trajectories.
  • There is an overwhelming commitment to further empower Jewish teens to create and develop engagement opportunities for their peers. This does not contradict the desire of teens to have positive adult role models in their lives who they perceive as being potential mentors and guides during their adolescent years.

The precipitous dropout of Jewish youth from Jewish life post the age of Bar and Bat mitzvah is indeed a wicked problem. It has embedded within it many complexities that have made it difficult to solve and has no single silver bullet solution. The involvement of the Jim Joseph Foundation, the various communities, and now this newly launched national teen incubator signify the greatest investment to date to confront this reality head on. No one doubts that there will be challenges to confront and hurdles to overcome. But no one involved in this initiative expects anything less. To misquote Rabbi Tarfon, The day is short, the work is great, the workers are certainly not lazy, the reward is certainly great.


Read more at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: May. 25, 2014