Tuesday, August 19, 2008

$100 million for synagogue buildings, no money for education?

1. From the Forward
Bitton, like many other Jewish families, is facing harsh financial realities as the economy continues to slow down. For people like the Bittons, who had managed to create a comfortable middle-class life while giving their kids a formal Jewish education, paying tuition in full is harder these days. As a result, Jewish educational institutions are feeling the pinch.

Around the country, Jewish day schools and high schools are coping with dropping enrollment, more requests for financial assistance and reduced fundraising dollars

“The impact is felt in the Jewish middle class, which is either not enrolling because they know they can’t afford it, or they’re leaving because even with financial aid they can’t afford it, or they’re embarrassed to ask for financial aid, because they never had to before,” said Mark Kramer, who is executive director of Ravsak, a national network of Jewish community day schools.

2. Supplementary schools in trouble
Study Provides Snapshot of Struggling Supplementary Schools

By Nate Sugarman
Wed. Aug 13, 2008

America’s Jewish supplementary schools are struggling to remain relevant as a torpid American economy and higher rates of intermarriage and religious apathy take their toll. Many Conservative and Reform Jewish parents are opting out of giving their children a religious education...Jack Wertheimer, of the New York-based Avi Chai Foundation, has conducted a new census, which provides a good snapshot of the current state of Jewish supplementary schools.

The study, for which data was collected between May and December 2007, covers students from grades one through 12 and includes data from 1,720 schools, up to 90% of the nation’s total. Because a study of this scale had not been undertaken previously, there are no numbers from years past to use for comparison. Wertheimer, a former provost of Jewish Theological Seminary and presently director of the Joseph and Miriam Ratner Center for the Study of Conservative Judaism, instead has relied upon testimony from those who attended these schools in their heyday — in the 1950s and ’60s...Jonathan Woocher — chief ideas officer at the Lippman Kanfer Institute, a Jewish education think tank that is part of the Jewish Education Service of North America — recognizes that because of a variety of external forces, including growth of day schools, declining population of young Jews and the rise of intermarriage, this segment of Jewish education is in a temporary state of doldrums. Though he doesn’t dispute the lower enrollment numbers, he is optimistic about the future of Jewish supplementary education. “There is good reason to believe things will improve qualitatively,” Woocher said. He cites that many initiatives are taking place to improve the quality of Jewish supplemental education. “Many foundations and organizations are stepping up and designing new curricula, becoming more interactive with students and parents, and developing more facilities,” Woocher said..Margie Berkowitz, director of Prozdor at the Hebrew College, agrees, and said that “the current system was designed for the children of the 1950s, and it needs to be changed to fit the needs of students today.”

3. Storied L.A. Shul Thinks Big, Seeks $100 Million

By Rebecca Spence
Wed. Aug 06, 2008
Los Angeles — Wilshire Boulevard Temple is no penny-ante shul. L.A.’s oldest Reform congregation, the synagogue has long served as a spiritual home to Tinseltown’s titans and loomed large on Southern California’s Jewish landscape. Today, it boasts 2,500 member families, and three separate campuses spread across the metropolitan area — including a 200-acre summer camp and conference center in Malibu.

It’s no surprise, then, that this larger-than-life synagogue is led by a rabbi with correspondingly grand ambitions.
“Part of my job is being CEO of a medium-sized company,” said Rabbi Steven Leder. “I don’t really care that our marketing materials, for example, are as good or better than most synagogues. I want to know why they aren’t as good as Apple, or Coke or Pepsi.”
Now, Leder — who meets with an executive coach nearly every month and calls the business-management book “Good to Great” his “bible” — is leading his congregation in the most ambitious fundraising drive of its 146-year history. The Wilshire Boulevard Temple is seeking to raise $100 million over the next few years to refurbish its historic sanctuary and build a sprawling campus that will serve as the hub for Jewish life on the city’s east side.

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