Over the past several weeks, I have heard a number of rumors that CAJE, the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, could possibly be closing its doors. Among other things this would mean that CAJE, the organization that is the primary resource for secondary school and religious school educators, might not hold its annual conference this summer.
CAJE closing would deal a significant blow to a field that has very few centralized resources. And if the conference disappeared, the 1,000 or so Hebrew school teachers who attend each year would lose a serious morale boost for what is already viewed by many as a thankless job.
In a conversation with the Fundermentalist last week, CAJE’s executive director Jeffrey Lasday acknowledge that the organization is having financial difficulties and leading to some talk about canceling this year’s conference, which is scheduled to take place in San Antonio. But, he said, “Right now we are working as if there is going to be a conference and a CAJE.”
He acknowledged, though, that neither is a certainty.
Each year the organization spends upwards of $1 million on the conference — about half of the organization’s budget.
Lasday said that the organization has incurred some debt connected to some of its past conferences; it is facing a drop in membership due to the economy; there is uncertainty over whether the organizations and Jewish federations that help sponsor CAJE and the conference will be able to continue to do so during this rough economic time, and there is concern over how many teachers and schools will be able to afford the tuition for the conference, given their own budget restraints..
“We are facing some significant challenges,” he said.
Already CAJE was looking at holding a smaller conference this year than the one last year at the University of Vermont, which drew some 1,500 participants.
I followed up with Lasday on Wednesday, after CAJE held a board meeting earlier this week, and he reiterated that for right now, CAJE exists and there will be a conference.
“For right now we are working towards having a conference,” he said. “For right now, we are moving ahead. I will be surveying the country to get a pulse on whether agencies have funding and to see if people have funding to send teachers to a national conference.”
He added: “Everyone is very concerned about the economy and just how radically they will be affected.”
Lasday also said that I should check back with him in two weeks, when he should have a clearer idea of the future of CAJE.