A working paper from JESNA's Lippman Kanfer Institute and The Berman Center for Research and Evaluation that presents a detailed portrait of one of the country's most innovative educational initiatives, the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education's Concierge for Jewish Education program. The program is presented as an ambitious example of a range of activities that central agencies are undertaking to link educational silos in their communities.
Perhaps the most ambitious efforts of “linking silos” — strengthening the connections between and among educational settings and between potential learners and the opportunities available to them - currently underway is a program initiated by the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles (“LA BJE”), the Concierge for Jewish Education. This program aims to connect Jewish families directly with Jewish educational opportunities through two principal mechanisms: JKidLA.org (a website with a wide array of educational information and resources) and “Concierges,” (individuals who provide personalized information and advice to client families).
JKidLA.org includes listings of Jewish educational programs, camps, events and other programs for Jewish families in the Los Angeles area, as well as a community calendar. The Concierges are Jewish professionals working for the LA BJE who are available via phone or email, free of charge, to anyone looking for Jewish education or other Jewish activities in the Greater Los Angeles area. The Concierges familiarize themselves with the many educational institutions in the area and use this knowledge to recommend programs to clients that best fit the families’ needs, interests, Jewish practice and geographic location.
JESNA has prepared this case study to illuminate the work of the Concierge for Jewish Education program as it has developed in its early years of operation. The study focuses on the following questions:
- How does the Concierge for Jewish Education program operate? How does it reach out to clients? How does it use its two arms — the website and the Concierges? In what ways does it provide a service to those clients?
- Who are the program’s clients? For what purposes do they use the service?
- In what ways does the Concierge for Jewish Education program link Jewish educational silos for its clients?
- What do program participants and others involved with the program perceive as the value for the Los Angeles Jewish community, for its clients, and for its member institutions?
This study is not an evaluation of the Concierge program.
Rather, JESNA’s goal is to help readers, especially those in other communities interested in linking silos, to understand better how this program has evolved, some of the key features in its current operation, and some of the issues and challenges that have emerged in the course of implementing this noteworthy and pioneering effort. By doing so, JESNA hopes to stimulate additional interest in and strategies for realizing the broad objective of helping individuals and families make positive and satisfying choices to take advantage of Jewish educational opportunities and become lifelong Jewish learners.
Data Sources for the Report
With the cooperation and assistance of the LA BJE, JESNA collected information about the Concierge service using three qualitative and quantitative data gathering methods:
- Interviews: JESNA conducted one-on-one telephone interviews with the two current Concierges and the supervisor of the program to learn about the operations and development of the service and the roles that the Concierges see themselves playing with clients and with institutional leaders. The supervisor also identified institutional partners for JESNA to interview so that it could obtain the perspectives of key stakeholders. JESNA interviewed four representatives of Jewish institutions that work with the Concierge service about their experiences working with the Concierges and about the ways in which the service has added value to their organizations.
- Document Review: To gain information about the Concierge service’s clients and their use of the website (JKidLA.org), JESNA reviewed a set of reports from the website and from the program’s client database (created with Salesforce.com). The reports that the LA BJE provided included information about how many client requests were made per month, the types of requests made, the number of requests per client and per Concierge, and how many visits and hits the web site received each month. JESNA also reviewed reports on usage of the program’s website (JKidLA.org).
- Online Survey: In collaboration with the LA BJE, JESNA developed and fielded an online survey of current and former Concierge clients in February, 2009. The online survey included questions about the respondents’ demographic profile, their experiences using the Concierge service, and any actions they took as a result of using the service. The Concierge for Jewish Education program sent the survey link to every email address in its client database, a total of 323 people. After four additional reminder emails to the Concierge client email list, 70 people responded to the survey, a response rate of 22%. Based on this relatively small sample, it is not possible to say how those clients who responded to the survey are similar to or different from those who did not respond; it is also not possible to generalize the survey findings to the entire population of Concierge users.
The Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education, with the support of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Foundation, has broken new ground by giving concrete form and substance to the concept of actively connecting Jewish families to educational opportunities through the Concierge for Jewish Education program. Many of the efforts thus far to “link silos” in the Jewish world have focused on strengthening institutional connections — building stronger relationships between and among synagogues and summer camps, or early childhood education programs and day schools. These efforts grow out of a long history of attempts to better coordinate educational activities between institutions. There is still much to be done in this regard, and also little doubt that learners and ultimately the Jewish community as a whole will benefit from these endeavors.
What the Concierge program reminds us, however, is that connecting institutions without connecting individuals to them is only half the challenge. While it is too soon to assess the “success” or ultimate cost effectiveness of the Concierge program as it is being implemented in Los Angeles, the attention it has garnered elsewhere across the continent is evidence that it has touched a responsive chord. Communal leaders increasingly have become aware that the Jewish community and its institutions present a somewhat forbidding face to many in the Jewish population. Whether it is making synagogues more welcoming or taking steps to provide a friendly face, voice, and correspondent to help locate the right early childhood education program, the Jewish community can no longer afford to operate under the assumption that “if you build it, they will come.”
The LA BJE Concierge for Jewish Education program is a serious and sophisticated effort to blend “hi-tech” and “hi-touch” to create meaningful connections with Jewish families that respect them as people who actively choose their Jewish engagement, but who also seek and welcome relevant and personalized assistance in making these choices. We do not yet know if this specific “formula” will produce the results its designers seek, but it seems that the LA BJE Concierge service is off to a promising start. It is now up to all of us who care about the Jewish future to build on that beginning and work to fulfill our commitment to create a community of lifelong Jewish learners.