A Time for Families to Be at the Center: The First National Symposium of the Jewish Early Engagement Forum

July 13, 2016

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens, (Ecclesiastes 3:1), and now it is time to put families with young children at the center of attention for the Jewish community. This is the message that Rachel Raz, founder of the Jewish Early Engagement Forum, and Director of the Early Childhood Institute of the Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education at Hebrew College in Newton Massachusetts, gave to approximately 120 attendees at the first National Symposium of the Jewish Early Engagement Forum (JEEF) on July 13, 2016. Given the increasing rate of intermarriage and the decreasing rate of affiliation with Jewish organizations, Raz made the case that the Jewish community must act quickly to form meaningful connections with families with young children in order to avoid losing more and more families.

National experts in the field of early engagement with families had the opportunity to speak to a representative spectrum of Jewish community members who interact with families. Participants included clergy, executive directors of synagogues and other Jewish organizations, synagogue presidents and board members, presidents of philanthropic foundations, researchers, religious school and preschool directors, and other professionals from around the country.

Two important conclusions resulted from the symposium: the Jewish community needs a national entity that will support and promote the field; and the Jewish community needs to address the shortage of educators and professionals who are trained to work with young families.

Regarding the shortage of educators, Raz described how she receives regular requests from across the country from Jewish schools and synagogues seeking qualified candidates with strong Jewish and education backgrounds who can fill vacant preschool director and teacher positions. Often, the resumes that preschools receive are from candidates with little to no Jewish background who are minimally qualified as educators. Symposium participants made recommendations for three main strategies for addressing the shortage. First, invest in the professional development of those working in the field; second, recruit and inspire young adults to get into the field; and third, create positions in the field with attractive compensation packages.

Panelists were Dr. Mark Rosen, Associate Professor in the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University; Cathy Rolland, Director of Engaging Families with Young Children for the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ); Na’ama Ore, Boston Regional Director of the Israeli American Council; Winnie Sandler Grinspoon, President of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, and Rachel Raz. The panelists spoke passionately about the unmet need of families of young children in today’s Jewish community.

Starting in 2001, experts in the field of early childhood have periodically convened with funders to explore what excellence in the field can look like, and several initiatives have been spawned as a result of these meetings including pilot schools, research and community work in cities such as Milwaukee, Denver and New York. JEEF replaces the child with the entire family at the center of early engagement. JEEF also addresses the current demographics and diversity of the American Jewish community, including a large organized Israeli American community. Furthermore, JEEF’s National Symposium gives the community the chance to reassess the state of the field and address the current needs including the lack of highly qualified educators in the field and the remaining absence of a national entity to oversee and regularly assess the field.

Read more at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Aug. 03, 2016