NEW YORK (JTA) – B’nai B’rith Youth Organization and the Jim Joseph Foundation hope a $2.5 million investment in Jewish professional development will pay dividends for the Jewish community far into the future.After nearly a year of due diligence, the foundation made its first four significant grants two weeks ago, Executive Director Chip Edelsberg said.The largest of the grants went to BBYO’s Youth Professional Initiative – a program that will help 20 BBYO employees get master’s degrees in business as well as top-flight Jewish educations while on the job.The goal is to entice young Jews into careers in the Jewish community, Edelsberg said.”The market tells us this is what they want,” he said. “We think this is a unique opportunity. Coalescing work with academic pursuit is not common in the Jewish world.” The foundation established a board of trustees last year and charged it with figuring out how to allocate proceeds from more than a half-billion dollars that Joseph, a real-estate mogul, left when he died in 2003.Since Joseph’s death, the foundation has been in the process of transferring his assets to the foundation, President Al Levitt told JTA.Levitt, a real-estate and tax lawyer, said he doesn’t know exactly how much the foundation will be worth when that process is done, but “it would be significantly higher than half a billion dollars.”By law, a private foundation has to distribute 5 percent of its assets annually or face steep tax penalties. The foundation won’t know for some time exactly how much it has to give away, but the amount has been estimated at some $25 million per year.Until now, the foundation had made several smaller grants and become a partner in the Partnership for Jewish Education, which required a $1.5 million grant to be paid out over five years.Before making any major grants the foundation commissioned several reports, including one by Amy Sales at Brandeis University, that mapped the Jewish educational world and its greatest needs.Edelsberg acknowledged that the foundation had been accused of moving too slow, but contended that it was a laborious effort since the first grants are designed to effect major change.The BBYO grant will fund a special arrangement the group is trying to work out with a top 50 business school. That would allow 20 BBYO employees, who would have to apply and be accepted to the school, to take MBA courses remotely and earn a degree within three years at the foundation’s expense.BBYO has narrowed potential schools down to “a few finalists,” Executive Director Matthew Grossman said, and participants will be chosen in time for the 2008 academic year.BBYO also is working with educators to design a Jewish curriculum for program participants; those courses also would be taken long distance. Participants would not earn a degree from the Jewish courses but could earn credit toward one.They will be mentored by prominent lay and professional leaders. Participants would be expected to continue to work in the Jewish organizational world after they finished the program, though not necessarily with BBYO.The goal is to turn out top-flight executives for Jewish organizations. Students who did not continue on to a career in Jewish life would be expected to pay back half the cost of the education over a number of years. If they ultimately returned to work in the Jewish community, they would be reimbursed for what they paid back.”For BBYO to do this positions us as being a cutting-edge employer in the Jewish community,” Grossman said. “This is an ideal starting point for a career in the Jewish community and another avenue to launch exceptional careers.”The foundation also granted $2.275 million to birthright israel. Of that, $1 million will pay for the 10-day trips to Israel for those in their final year of eligibility. The rest will be used to fund birthright follow-up programs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and the Washington area.The foundation also committed an undisclosed amount of money to two early-childhood programs: It became a funding member of the Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative and seed funder for an initiative to create a cutting-edge, early childhood project in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the foundation’s headquarters are located, Edelsberg said.The board will decide on another round of grants sometime in July, Levitt said.”We were looking for a bold project and this particular project fit within that,” Levitt said. “Not only did it provide for assistance to BBYO, but equally importantly it provided for new professional people to come out of the Jewish ring.”
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