Author Archives: Jason Brzoska

Shared Future, Shared Resources

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(Jason’s note: I’m sharing a piece that I co-wrote with two colleagues on the subject of collaboration with other Jewish organizations in response to the current economic crisis.)
by Jason Brzoska, Adam Gaynor and Becky Voorwinde

(cross-posted at eJewish Philanthropy)

The economic downturn and the Madoff scandal have escalated discussion in the Jewish communal world about collaboration. In fact, the recommendations of the just-released report The Innovation Ecosystem: Emergence of a New Jewish Landscape indicate that organizations want to and should be collaborating and sharing resources. The report says organizations should “collaborate and cooperate to reduce costs.” As organizations who are productively partnering with one another, we found that the initial time and effort put into building relationships between our organizations has truly paid off in saved time and money.

In nature, when resources are scarce, survival instincts kick in. In the Jewish organizational world today, funding, the lifeblood of not-for-profits, is limited. Strategic collaboration with like-minded organizations, while often beneficial in normal times, can be one of the most effective means of stretching our dollars in these lean economic years.

Strategic collaboration goes beyond personal catch-ups and coffee meetings; it is about identifying opportunities to share resources effectively. As small organizations, we can achieve ends beyond our own means through the sharing of both knowledge and infrastructure.

This past Fall, through informal networking, Rebecca Voorwinde, Director of Alumni Engagement for the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel (BYFI), and Adam Gaynor, Acting Executive Director of The Curriculum Initiative (TCI), learned they were both interested in investing in a new database platform. BYFI was able to identity the best platform to use through their initial research, while TCI did the legwork to identity the most knowledgeable and cost effective database consultant. In the end, both organizations saved time and money by choosing the same platform and same consultant.

After MyJewishLearning.com (MJL) opened the doors of its new office in 2008, its leadership realized that MJL was only using its conference room for a couple of hours a week, so it decided to invite other organizations who need such a space but do not have their own. When out-of-town organizations need a home base while working in New York, MJL opens up its offices to allow other professionals an “office away from home.” MJL understands the value of this because, for 6 years, MyJewishLearning.com lived as a largely remote organization in several such shared office spaces, including that of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships’ office in Albany, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, and the 90 Oak Street communal space in suburban Boston.

MJL and TCI frequently share fundraising and outreach strategies. As young fundraisers, we are learning from our successes, and our failures, all the time. By exchanging information about best practices, successful strategies and research, we are maximizing our ability to raise money, expanding our reach, and in the process creating an informal peer network.

The Jewish people are not a private mailing list. It is in our best interest to share contacts and potential supporters. All three of our organizations have utilized each other’s networks to promote opportunities of relevance to our constituencies. For example, students who participated in TCI’s programs have become Bronfman Youth Fellows because of TCI’s willingness to promote this opportunity to their networks. If an opportunity offered by another organization can benefit our constituencies, we believe it is our obligation to promote it to them.

In addition to financial support, the best way that individual funders and Foundations can assist is by acting as a convener of these relationships. From their unique perch, they have a bird’s eye view of the Jewish communal world, giving them the ability to speak with multiple organizations who are constantly experimenting, and to hear the needs of each organization. Funders can use their higher level perspective to disseminate lessons learned and to make shidduchim for potential resource sharing.

The shift from a closed organizational culture to one that is more open to working together requires a certain level of commitment among individuals, organizations and their supporters. There needs to be sincere follow-up, and a genuine trust between each party engaged in such collaboration.

We are writing as a call to action, both to non-profits and funders. Fostering a collaborative and open culture among Jewish organizations is key to the survival of many organizations during these difficult times. We believe in the power of collaboration to further our individual visions which, though not identical, complement one another and add to the collective well-being of the Jewish community.

Jason Brzoska is Chief Operating Officer of MyJewishLearning.com; Adam Gaynor is Acting Executive Director of The Curriculum Initiative and Rebecca Voorwinde is Director of Alumni Engagement for the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel.

Posted on April 28, 2009

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Streaming Yom Hashoah Lecture by Yehuda Bauer, April 21st

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From Brandeis University:

Yom HaShoah/Holocaust Remembrance Day Program — A Brandeis University program in your home

Yehuda Bauer, a pioneer in the field of Holocaust studies, will speak on “Holocaust and Genocide: A Historian’s Viewpoint,” at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening April 21. This program will be available live and free to the public on the Brandeis University website.

To view it, go to: www.brandeis.edu/streaming

Bauer, a deep and dynamic speaker, serves on the faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem. He has been widely recognized for his work on the prevention of genocide. In 1998, Bauer was the recipient of the Israel Prize, the highest civilian award in Israel.

Professor Bauer’s talk will be archived at www.brandeis.edu following the conclusion of the program.
For more information, call (781) 736-2125, or visit http://www.brandeis.edu/tauberinstitute

Presented by the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry and Sarnat Center for the Study of Anti-Jewishness with the support and cooperation of the Center for German and European Studies; the Holocaust Remembrance Committee, Brandeis Hillel; and the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences

Posted on April 19, 2009

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

GISHA Conference for Jewish Educators of Students with Special Needs in Boston

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From April 26th-27th, our friends and co-founding producer, Hebrew College, are holding a conference in the Boston area on the topic of teaching Hebrew to Jewish students with special needs.

At the conference, they will be honoring Dr. Scott Sokol as the inaugural Bernard J. Korman Professor of Jewish Special Education.

On Sunday, April 26, Dr. Scott M. Sokol will be inaugurated as the Bernard J. Korman Professor of Jewish Special Education at Hebrew College. The professorship is the first of its kind in the nation.
“For Jewish education to be truly inclusive, educators need to reach out to students of all learning abilities,” said Sokol, who spearheaded the creation of Hebrew College’s new Center for Jewish Special Education.

Sokol’s inauguration will be a highlight of the Center’s first international conference, GISHA (Good Ideas Supporting Hebrew Access), April 26–27. The conference will convene leading researchers from the U.S., Canada and Israel to explore how to help students with special needs to learn and use Hebrew reading skills in a variety of educational settings.

A neuropsychologist as well as a cantor, Sokol has focused his research and clinical practice for the past 25 years on the intersection of psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics, specifically regarding how individuals acquire and process first and second languages.

“My interest in Jewish special education is related to how we can use what we know about language development to teach Hebrew to individuals with special needs,” said Sokol. “As the People of the Book, we need to have access to the book. If we are serious about enabling all Jewish learners to have access to Jewish texts, we need to take a close look at how we teach Hebrew to all learners.”

Click here for more information or to sign up.

Posted on April 8, 2009

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Julian Sandler (Z”L)

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Julian Sandler, former Chair of the Board of Directors of Hillel International and a supporter of MJL, has passed away at the age of 64:

During his 15 years of leadership, Mr. Sandler brought commitment, wisdom and vision to Hillel. As a member of the International Board of Governors, treasurer and vice chair of the Board of Directors, and as chair of the Strategic Planning Committee, he guided Hillel’s growth and assured a brighter future for Jewish students worldwide.

In one of his final acts, Mr. Sandler established The Julian Sandler Endowment for Executive Leadership Development which will support Hillel’s training, executive leadership development, mentoring, coaching and evaluation program for its most promising new Hillel directors. This endowment reflects the devotion of Julian and his wife Nina to Hillel’s work in inspiring Jewish students to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life

Julian Sandler was the founder and President of Rent-a-PC, Inc. – later renamed SmartSource Computer and A/V Rentals. — a nationwide provider of short-term computer, audio-visual and technology rentals to the IT community. He was a past president and an active member of the Dix Hills Jewish Center, a board member of the Fay J. Linder assisted living complex at the Gurwin Jewish Geriatric Center and a member of the Rabbinical School Board of Overseers at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Julian was one of the first funders to get behind Daniel’s and my vision to transform MyJewishLearning.com into the site it is today and was thus instrumental in this month’s relaunch.

Our condolences go out to Julian’s widow Nina and the rest of his family and friends. He will be missed.

Posted on March 25, 2009

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Lights! Celebrate Hanukkah Live in Concert

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Our friends at Craig n’ Co. have let us know about a Hanukkah music special that PBS is broadcasting this month.

Lights! Celebrate Hanukkah Live In Concert features an eclectic group of performers, many of them well-known in the Jewish music scene along with artists not normally associated with the genre or the holiday. Check local PBS TV listings in early December to enjoy this gala holiday special with everyone in the family.

Lights PBS Hanukkah

Posted on December 16, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

From Keggers to Kosher

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I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, and thought it might be a fun video for you to watch over the weekend. My friend Danny Greene, who works for Current TV, put together this video a few months ago about his former college fraternity brother who surprised his friends by becoming ba’al teshuva after college. Enjoy!

Posted on October 24, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Hope In Our Hands

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Fittingly, on the night of his big speech to the Republican National Convention, John McCain is the author of today’s installment of Jewels of Elul.

The Jewish month of Elul is both a time for reflection and one of hope for the future. Jewish tradition teaches that a person is judged on Yom Kippur, but afterwards the slate is wiped clean for the coming year. No matter how bad the past, the future is always one of hope.

Indeed, one of Judaism’s greatest contributions is the lesson of hope. Ancient civilizations believed in fate. A man’s future was not in his own hands but in the stars. The Hebrew Bible refuted that. It taught that man is created in God’s image, and that God gave man free will. It is a lesson of hope and destiny.

It is no coincidence that the oppressors of the Jewish people, from ancient times to today, are always those who have tried to stifle hope and freedom. The reestablishment of the State of Israel and its repeated survival against all odds represents the legacy of hope the Bible infused in its people.

Natan Sharansky exemplifies the tradition of hope. He spent nine years in the Soviet Gulag – 400 days were in punishment cells, and more than 200 days were on hunger strikes. He never backed down or made a deal. He knew his future was not predetermined; it was in his hands.

That lesson of hope is one that has helped me throughout my life. And as we look to the future, it is helpful to remind ourselves that there is no problem or challenge we cannot overcome together.

jewels2008.jpg

Posted on September 4, 2008

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From Berlin to Bunks

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Today’s Jewel of Elul is from Elisa Bildner, who chairs the Foundation for Jewish Camp:

Erev Shabbat, July 18, 2008. Berlin’s Pestalozzistrasse Synagogue. One of the few non-native parishioners in a packed pre-World War II sanctuary, I daven, mesmerized by the cantor’s mellifluous tenor. I think: What seemed improbable, impossible, is not. Six decades after the Nazis obliterated 200,000 German Jews, Berlin is the world’s fastest growing Jewish community.

My thoughts flit from macro and global to micro and communal, considering another unlikely scenario. Ten years ago, my husband Rob and I started the Foundation for Jewish Camp, which advocates for and supports non-profit Jewish overnight camps. We struggled to convince the Jewish world to financially bolster and embrace the power of these institutions, as the community had so admirably done for Israel trips and day schools. As Jonah Geller of Detroit’s Camp Tamarack once explained: “If you want to give children a Jewish background, give them a Jewish playground.” I remember cajoling potential funders to visit a camp. Two men arrived, shvitzing in button-down shirts. We walked past a bunk of kids listening intently to the camp director describe his experience as an Israeli army medic, and past another group of campers learning Israeli dancing. “This isn’t Jewish learning,” one funder huffed, promptly ending the visit – and any assistance.

Flash forward ten years later. Rob and I sit in another packed venue, a Foundation for Jewish Camp reception for Atlanta Jewish leaders, awed as FJC CEO Jerry Silverman and Chair Skip Vichness outline what this year’s $20 million budget has wrought. Scholarships aplenty. Staff training programs. Assistance to build new camps.

From Berlin to bunks: Nothing, or as they say in Berlin, nichts, is impossible.

jewels2008.jpg

Posted on September 3, 2008

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Jewels of Elul 2008

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Today is not only Labor Day; it is also Rosh Chodesh Elul, the first day of the Jewish month of Elul. For the fourth year, our friends at Craig n’ Co. have collected a series of short essays by various luminaries, entitled Jewels of Elul. The first selection comes from Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz:

I almost never dream.

On that rare occasion when I do, it’s the typical dream that Freud would be proud of. I fly through the air. I can’t find the room in which an important test is being held. I’m driving too fast. I see almost no relationship between my dreams and my accomplishments.

I do have hopes, wishes, aspirations, goals – but they are rooted in reality. Dreaming is fantasy and fantasies rarely produce accomplishments.

The concept of “dreamers and their dreamsâ€? may be intended in a metaphoric way – as a euphemism for aspirations. I’ve always had aspirations. Coming from a relatively poor family, I wanted to strike a balance between doing good for the world and doing well for my family. My goal was to be able to make a living out of doing good without compromising my principles. I have strived to achieve those dual goals throughout my life.

The path I chose was one of challenge – to challenge authority, challenge conventional wisdom, challenge government and most important, challenge myself. It is not a path to popularity. Nor is it a road to a restful existence. To get back to the metaphoric dreams, mine do not result in restful sleep. Instead, they produce restlessness, even occasional nightmares. But as I turn seventy and look back on my life, I have very little to complain about – at least so far.

Craig n’ Co. will be posting a new Jewel every day of Elul. To read them all or to order a free booklet of this year’s Jewels, click here or on the banner below.

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Posted on September 1, 2008

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