BOSTON (Apr. 26)
While Jewish Community Centers (JCC) are part of a Jewish educational network, they “are distinctive because they have the ability to appeal to all segments of the Jewish community.
“They are able to stimulate many people who initially come for a specific program to become more involved in the center’s Jewish activities and thus broaden their understanding and commitment to the Jewish community.
“Increasingly, many people who are unaffiliated with other Jewish organizations come to JCCs to participate in Jewish education programs such as Jewish holiday workshops, Jewish educational forums, and the like.”
These are among the findings of an intensive study which has involved hundreds of leaders of JCCs, Jewish Federations, Jewish education bodies and the rabbinate in 32 communities throughout North America, JWB and other national Jewish organizations.
Morton Mandel, of Cleveland, chairman of the JWB Commission on Maximizing the Jewish Educational Effectiveness of Jewish Community Centers, will present the findings and potential implications of the Commission study at a plenary session tomorrow of the JWB biennial convention at the Sheraton Boston. Arthur Rotman, JWB executive vice president, was study director.
“There is a high correlation,” the findings state, “between the existence of rich Jewish educational programming in the center and … those center leaders affiliated with synagogues who give to their local Federation campaigns and who are determined that their centers should have such Jewish educational programs.”
A high correlation was also discovered between effective Jewish educational programming in the JCCs and Jewishly knowledgeable and committed executives and staff members; fiscally sound centers; a warm Jewish ambiance in the JCCs, and their “ability to stimulate the desire for Jewish learning, skill in increasing the level of Jewish involvement of individuals and groups, and skill in creating Jewish educational initiatives to meet the needs of Jews to grow Jewishly.”
OTHER FINDINGS REPORTED
Other findings reported by Mandel are:
* There is a continuing need in North America for Jewish Community Centers and other Jewish institutions to discuss and gain a better understanding about their respective roles in maximizing Jewish educational effectiveness.
* In communities where Federations encourage centers to develop rich Jewish educational programs this tends to happen.
*For many Jews, JCCs reinforce Jewish education received elsewhere, and for others the JCC is the beginning force for Jewish education.
* “Turf” issues inhibit centers from maximizing their Jewish educational role.
* There is a need for more awareness about centers’ present activities and potential impact in the area of Jewish education.
* Also, Jewish Community Centers have a unique capacity to reach out and serve special populations such as the intermarried, the handicapped, singles, single parents, the elderly, teens and others; JCCs need more Jewish education program models that they can use; Israel can serve as an important educational resource.
UNIQUE POSITION OF THE JCCS
In summing up the findings, Mandel concluded: “Sociologists looking for the factors eroding Jewish life in North America have pointed to such things as the weakening of the family and the decline of the dense Jewish neighborhood.
“The Jewish Community Center is uniquely positioned to strengthen the Jewish family and to be one of the new equivalents of the old Jewish neighborhood. The center, by maximizing its Jewish educational potential, can be a major force in the enhancement of Jewish life in North America.”
Among the potential implications of the study are the following:
* Centers should provide “more Jewish educational experiences for their lay leadership through board retreats, Jewish study at committee and board meetings, and encourage participation in Jewish learning institutes.”
* When seeking an executive, “the Search Committee of the Center’s board should explore with candidates evidence of their Jewish commitment.”
* JWB should establish “a national recognition award for Centers which have developed outstanding Jewish learning programs for staff.”
* JWB scholarship students should participate “in Jewish learning as part of their required education.”
Also, professional and lay leaders of the Center “should continue to meet regularly with leaders of other Jewish institutions in the community in order to explore the Center’s function and potential in the area of Jewish education and the opportunities for cooperation.
Locally, centers should relate more actively with bureaus of Jewish education,” the study continued. By “developing coalitions with other national agencies, such as the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA), Council of Jewish Federations (CJF) and national synagogue bodies, JWB can better interpret the role and potential of the Center in the area of Jewish education.”
JWB should “develop a curriculum for Jewish learning and a self-assessment tool for individuals”; and the “use of resources in Israel, through the JWB office in Jerusalem, should be promoted and developed,” the study said.