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One year later, day-school fund draws donations

 
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Roughly a year ago, in response to heightened concerns over the cost of day-school tuition, representatives of the day schools in our community, the local rabbinate, and lay leadership began meeting to discuss solutions. These informal meetings quickly led to the establishment of Jewish Education for Generations, a formal, regularly meeting, coalition encompassing all local day schools, community rabbis, and lay leaders.

Continuing the conversation

JEFG’s fundamental mission is to ensure continued access to high quality Jewish education by addressing the systemic issue of day school affordability in a strategic, sustainable manner. At this point, JEFG is the only such integrated, interdenominational network in the United States. It provides an unprecedented opportunity to work across the entire day-school network and broader community to identify and execute solutions to the challenges facing parents of day-school students. Critical partnerships have been established with major Jewish organizations such as the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, Yeshiva University, and the Avi Chai Foundation that see JEFG as a unique platform to drive new ideas and approaches.

Underlying all of JEFG’s efforts is the belief that the funding model for Jewish education must change — so that it is viewed as a communal obligation.

The question remains, after a year, how are we doing?

The best way to answer that question is to briefly review the three critical areas of activity that JEFG identified from the outset and to assess the progress that has been made in each. (A fourth area with tremendous potential, political action, is being driven by a separate group.)

1. Interschool cost-saving measures: One of the most dramatic accomplishments of JEFG to date has been the creation of a real partnership between all area day schools across denominational lines. Appropriate financial information is being shared and jointly studied with an eye toward determining the most effective ways of controlling costs across the board. Fund-raising plans are being reviewed and suggestions for greater success are regularly shared.

Most recently, the schools have entered into a formal partnership agreement with YU’s Azrieli Institute to broaden the examination of revenues and expenditures via a formal benchmarking analysis across our school network. This assessment should yield further opportunities for both savings and revenue generation. YU brings to the table its expertise concerning day-school education on a national scale and a team of talented financial experts who have been involved in similar exercises in the for-profit world.

2. Superfund for day-school education: The members of JEFG quickly realized that any real solution to the rising cost of day-school education would have to include the establishment of a community-wide superfund in support of Jewish education. The sum of money that needs to be raised to make a concrete difference in day-school education is, admittedly, daunting. JEFG plans, however, to appeal to philanthropists across the local community to consider major contributions toward local Jewish education.

The “ask” is clear: No other area of concern is more critical to the survival and future success of the Jewish community at large than Jewish education. Day schools are a proven commodity, with graduates regularly playing critical roles in all areas of Jewish communal life today. The education of each child, our best hope for the future, should be of deep concern to the entire community.

In this effort we are partnering with UJA-NNJ. We have been extremely impressed with the energy, excitement, initiative, and vision that have been shown, over the course of numerous planning meetings, by the UJA professionals and lay leadership with whom we have worked. We are confident that the superfund will be formally and successfully launched in the very near future.

3. The most visible initiative on JEFG’s agenda is Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools. Simple in concept yet revolutionary in scope, NNJKIDS is a grassroots program designed to shift the paradigm of day-school funding in our community by demonstrating that the responsibility for funding day-school education should not be borne solely by parents but should be shared by the broader community. All members of the community are asked to regularly contribute toward a communal fund for day-school education, to be distributed to all local day schools. Contributions can be made by logging onto the NNJKIDS Website.

Already, in the short period of time since its inception, close to 800 families from more than 30 synagogues are contributing to NNJKIDS at an annualized rate of approximately $370,000. Participants range from day-school parents to grandparents to community members without any children in the schools. It is important to note that 100 percent of all monies raised (minus credit card fees) will be directed to the schools thanks to a grant from the Avi Chai Foundation, which is covering all the administrative costs related to the project.

On Nov. 23, more than 50 day-school and community leaders gathered for a very special event to mark the first distribution of NNJKIDS funds. Approximately $185,000 was distributed, based on a per capita formula. This is a strong beginning, but the ultimate goal of NNJKIDS is to obtain 100 percent participation from across the entire community. If we are successful, funds raised through NNJKIDS, over time, will help offset burgeoning scholarship needs and mitigate tuition increases. And importantly, NNJKIDS’s impact cannot be measured only in economic terms. Such community support can be leveraged in many ways, aiding us in our efforts to: garner support from substantial community donors, demonstrate our seriousness to elected officials, and obtain grants from various community organizations.

How are we doing? We have made significant progress in less than a year, but we have a long way to go. Each one of us must participate if we are going to make a real difference.

Allow us to suggest a good way to start. Log on to http://www.nnjkids.org and enroll in a project that can truly change the course of our community’s history. Encourage your friends and neighbors to do so, as well. The future of our community’s children is in our hands. Together we can meet the challenge.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin is rabbinic adviser to JEFG, Sam Moed is president of JEFG, and Gershon Distenfeld is president of NNJKIDS.
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