Schusterman: Linking the JTS and HUC silos


A few weeks back, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation announced that it had partnered with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion and the Jewish Theological Seminary to create a joint program to provide professional and leadership training to Reform and Conservative rabbis .

The Schusterman Rabbinical Fellowship Program – which has named eight inaugural fellows, four from each school – is interesting from a religious point of view, as the primary seminaries from the two movements try to work together in a formal way.

From a funding point of view, it is no less fascinating.

For much of the last decade, many in the organized Jewish community came to the conclusion that the term organized Jewish community was increasingly becoming a misnomer – because, in truth, very few compartments of the Jewish world were on the same page.

Jack Wertheimer articulated the problem, at least in the field of Jewish education, in his 2005 paper “Linking the Silos: How to Accelerate Momentum in Jewish Education Today,” when he noted that the single greatest challenge for creating an effective model for teaching young Jews is figuring out how all of the different groups out there trying to teach young Jews can work together.

The word “silo” has become part of the lexicon in Jewish organizational world. And the foundation world, in particular, has started to pick up on the idea that collaboration is necessary to enact change, and the Schusterman Foundation has been at the forefront of the movement.

The foundation opened its Center for Leadership Initiatives in 2006 in part to bring Jewish organizational leaders together. And each year the foundation holds several different summits in the U.S. and Israel for the various organizations that it supports to get together and powwow, according to its president Sandy Cardin. (If the Fundermentalist can get Cardin to become a regular voice on this blog, he will become known as Schuster Man. If it’s cool with him.)

Schusterman’s nearly $2.5 million investment over the next five years in the HUC-JTS fellowship program – which will be facilitated by STAR, Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal – is part of this push for more collaboration, Cardin told the Fundermentalist.

“There is no question that there has been great fragmentation in the Jewish world in terms of areas of interest, and many of us believe it is not a healthy direction for our community,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “There is a need to be more diligent and steadfast and to make sure that we cooperate and collaborate. Some of us feel that it is the responsibility of the private philanthropists in particular to pursue that.”

There is actually an interesting story behind the genesis of Schusterman’s involvement in the collaboration, Cardin says.

After Charlie Schusterman died in 2000, Lynn Schusterman had a gathering at her home in Tulsa, Okla., for her late husband’s shloshim, the 30-day commemoration of his death.

Naturally, because of the late philanthropist’s prominence in the Jewish community, it was a high-powered event. Richard Joel, then the executive director of Hillel, and Howard Kohr, the head of AIPAC, both attended the event – and met for the first time. Given that both ran significant Jewish organizations that have pro-Israel components and worked within a mile of each other in D.C., the folks at Schusterman thought it was ridiculous they had never been introduced. “We realized, these folks just don’t get together,” Cardin said.

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