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Reprinted from Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia with permission of the author and the Jewish Women’s Archive.
While the post-Holocaust generation of Jewish educators was predominantly male, today the field of Jewish education is predominantly female. Growing enrollments in Hebrew schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s created a teacher shortage with college students swelling the ranks of Jewish educators. They organized themselves into enthusiastic student groups such as the World Union of Jewish Students, whose American branch, known as the Network, created gatherings like the Women’s Conference, which sparked the beginning of the Jewish feminist movement. They began to lobby for greater emphasis on Jewish education in the Council of Jewish Federations‘ allocations and for a less top-down structure within the profession.
In 1976, Cherie Koller-Fox and Jerry Benjamin, both students at the Harvard School of Education, called for and ultimately chaired a Jewish Students Network conference on Jewish education. Held in August 1976 at Brown University, it was called the “Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education” because, in Koller-Fox’s words, “the basic conference philosophy was to offer as many of the alternative approaches to teaching in one particular area as possible, and to communicate that there was a wide range of choices available in Jewish pedagogy.”
The following year in Rochester, New York, a permanent organization called the “Coalition for Alternatives in Jewish Education” was formed and the initials CAJE now stood for both the organization and the conference. The annual conferences, dubbed by Seymour Rossel as “the Jewish Woodstock,” brought together a diverse spectrum of the Jewish community for multiple workshops on every aspect of the Jewish curriculum with many items on the Jewish communal agenda. The organizational name was changed to the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education in 1987, reflecting the evolving position of the group in the Jewish organization world.
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