The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs Institute for Global Jewish Affairs interviewed Dr. Jack Wertheimer, professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary, about developments in Jewish education over the last decades and its directions in the future.
Among Dr. Wertheimer's observations:
- Important new trends and major challenges have reshaped the field of Jewish education over the past two decades. An overarching development has been families' insistence on choice as they try to find the schools and programs offering the best fit for each of their children. These expressions of consumerism have required Jewish educational institutions to tailor their programs to the needs of individual students and their parents.
- Whereas some programs continue to expect students to invest only minimal time, a number of "immersive educational experiences" have attracted larger populations. These include day schools, which continue to show signs of enrollment growth, overnight summer camps, and a diverse mix of programs in Israel.
- A number of Jewish foundations and private philanthropists have become champions of Jewish education, funding crucial programs and in some instances driving an agenda for renewal in the Jewish-education field. It is impossible to understand what has happened in key areas without reference to the active role of philanthropy. Although some donors have been hard hit by the economic crisis, big funders still remain major forces for change.
- Without discounting the considerable impact of new investments and strategies, the Jewish-education field continues to struggle with perennial challenges. One is the recruitment and retention of trained teachers for a field that does not pay high salaries and often offers only part-time employment. Another is financing for a system that is supported by fees and voluntary contributions. Of late, several new challenges have surfaced. The ever-increasing number of children from intermarried families who attend various Jewish educational programs raise issues that have not been properly thought through. Israel education has become a vastly complicated enterprise. Harnessing new technologies for Jewish education is yet another challenge. And spiraling costs of Jewish living are discouraging some families from taking maximal advantage of the rich offerings available.