Rabbi Josh Elkin’s announced departure after 14 years as executive director of PEJE provides an occasion to assess PEJE’s accomplishments under Josh’s leadership. PEJE’s efforts have mirrored developments in the day school world as well as broader trends within the non-profit world. Josh leaves behind an organization poised to help schools address the challenge of the moment: financial sustainability and tuition affordability.
PEJE was launched in 1997 by a dozen philanthropists and organizations recruited by Michael Steinhardt and Rabbi Yitz Greenberg. AVI CHAI was proud to be part of this group. In its early years, PEJE effectively backed a groundswell of new Jewish day schools opening across North America through challenge grants to provide seed capital. 60 schools were started with PEJE’s support. PEJE also began gathering and mobilizing day school lay leaders, promoting reflective and professional leadership.
By the end of PEJE’s first five years, most of the needed new schools had already been founded, and PEJE’s second phase began. Under Josh’s leadership, PEJE shifted focus and began providing expertise and financial support to both newer and established schools in key operational areas such as finance, admission, governance, leadership and strategic planning. PEJE funded the development of a suite of tools for schools – including a benchmarking Peer Yardstick, financial management software and a parent survey – and used the strategies of coaching, communities of practice and convening to bring knowledge and skills to schools.
After the financial collapse in 2008, PEJE decided to narrow its focus to the single issue of greatest current concern to schools: finances and affordability. Now working in greater partnership with local federations and communities, PEJE has begun to provide training to day school lay and professional leadership to grow their revenue streams, has taken the lead in supporting schools to build endowments (with funding provided by local partners and AVI CHAI) and is implementing an intensive program of knowledge gathering and dissemination catalyzed by regional managers in regular contact with local schools. More is on the way.
PEJE’s ability to shift its role in the field as warranted by the changing needs is perhaps the greatest tribute to Josh’s leadership. The captain steered the ship with a deft and nimble touch.
Recently, there have also been organizational changes at PEJE. The philanthropic culture of the 1990s spawned a variety of new funding partnerships built on the premise of smart and committed lay partners around the table being the best vehicle for solving our communities’ big problems. More recently, both non-profits and philanthropists recognize that the long-term sustainability of organizations depends on a broader base of support. Accordingly, while still anchored by a partner base, PEJE has begun to develop an independent board of directors and has attracted separate programmatic funding. PEJE is still in the early stages of this organizational transition, an important experiment for the broader Jewish philanthropic world.
Josh leaves PEJE in the able hands of Acting Director Amy Katz, who has been Josh’s partner in building PEJE for close to a decade. We all know that change is hard and scary. PEJE is lucky enough to have become comfortable with transition during its 14 years. As a day school advocate, I thank Josh not only for his 14 years of service at PEJE following a successful tenure as a day school head, but also for building a leadership team and culture that sets PEJE on a path for future success in this dynamic 21st century. I look forward to continuing to both support and benefit from PEJE in the years ahead.
Executive Director – North America