AVI CHAI concluded its general grant making on December 31, 2019.

Moving the Dial on Israel Education and Advocacy

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November 10, 2011

By: Yossi Prager
What is top of mind for the wealthiest funders of Jewish education/identity in North America?  Based on AVI CHAI’s conversations: Israel education and advocacy.
As part of AVI CHAI’s spend-down strategy, our Trustees and staff have been meeting with other significant philanthropists and foundation professionals to understand their priorities.  We hope that these conversations will lead to funder collaborations to continue building the field of Jewish education.  In the course of these meetings, we have heard again and again that philanthropists and foundation professionals worry about whether young people will develop strong attachments to the State of Israel and whether anything can be done to fight the growing anti-Israelism/anti-Semitism on campus in America and in countries across the globe.
Some foundations, most prominently and impressively, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, have already invested heavily in both of these areas, and most of the national Jewish foundations (including AVI CHAI) have devoted some funding to Israel education and/or Israel advocacy.  The newest program, to be implemented in summer camps in 2012, is a collaboration among a variety of funders (led by the Goodman family in Chicago and including AVI CHAI and the Marcus Foundation) and two operating partners (the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the iCenter).  This effort seeks to create and implement a comprehensive Israel education program at 36 overnight Jewish summer camps that are not already models of high quality Israel education. We are grateful to the Goodman Family and the operating partners for initiating the program and delighted to be able to participate.
And yet….  It seems, at least to me, that despite the philanthropic attention and investment, the dial is turning in the wrong direction.  I suspect that global politics and contemporary culture have changed faster and more sharply than most of us expected, with the result that the new efforts have been helpful but insufficient.  I won’t even waste (virtual) ink on discussing Israel’s global position.  Focusing just on American Jewry, surveys show, and educators know, that many young Jews have deep ambivalence about the Jewish State.  Educator friends of mine have been distressed to learn that even students committed enough to devote time after college to study Judaism do not necessarily have an innate attachment to Israel. These educators are now scrambling to figure out how to effectively integrate Israel education into their curriculum.  Some Jewish educators or programs serving young adults have taken the opposite approach: since Israel is a radioactive subject, they prefer not to bring it up at all.
And yet.…  I want to note two positive upcoming developments.  First, there are currently separate efforts underway to map the different programs in Israel education for pre-collegiates (commissioned by the iCenter) and in Israel advocacy (commissioned by a collaboration of funders).  These maps should at least provide comprehensive information about what are now fragmented fields and will hopefully identify needs and opportunities as well as raise a new set of questions about the effectiveness of different strategies being employed.
Second, funders interested in Israel education and advocacy have begun to talk seriously about collaborating, putting their dollars together to try to move the dial forward.  Philanthropic collaboration can be a double-edged sword: the need for consensus can generate lowest-common-denominator or fuzzy thinking.  However, collaboration can also be an opportunity for generating a bold definition of the problem to be solved and large scale interventions.  Birthright Israel is one model of successful philanthropic collaboration.  Perhaps there are other models that allow for a more intensive educational experience at a younger age by taking advantage of the educational environments that children are already in. Based on early conversations, I sense that there is at least a common understanding of the problem among the funders around the table.  Over the  next year, I hope that this common understanding will also yield new initiatives.
Stay tuned, and please share your thoughts.
Yossi Prager
Executive Director – North America

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