2015 has been a year of Renewal for the Pincus Fund

PrintBy Simon Caplan

In the context of leadership changes, and organizational reflection over the past couple of years, the Fund continued existing grant support to partner organizations, but paused in extending its grant-making activities. In a renewal of grant-making in this, the Fund’s fortieth year, some 44 new projects have been launched so far this year. Together with funds leveraged as a result of Pincus support, the Pincus Fund’s current global involvement in Diaspora Jewish educational projects is above $7 million.

The Pincus Fund for Jewish Education is essentially an address for “start-up” support throughout the Jewish world (excluding Israel and the United States), from the FSU, to Europe, to South America, to the various English speaking countries. Responding to ideas presented by schools, community organizations, and potential project innovators, the Fund is something of a prism through which to view current trends and changing needs in Jewish education.

Many applications received concerned developing and elevating the profession of Jewish education through projects dealing with the recruitment, training, placement and retention of the educator in informal and formal settings. The Jewish world has invested heavily in capital infrastructure. But a complementary approach to develop the human resource necessary to making that investment worthwhile has been sorely (and that is an understatement) lacking. Just for example, even in countries such as South Africa where the Jewish day school is central to the whole ethos of the community, only a small percentage of Limmudei Kodesh and Hebrew teachers have any form of qualification in education. This is not to speak of formal specialist training in the complex field of Jewish education. And the same could be said of Argentina, Russia and every other Diaspora population center beyond the USA.

In this context the Fund has helped shape the educational development of, and ultimately provided grant support for, a number of initiatives – each with unique local features and yet each representing a potential model for adaptation and replication. In the UK, for example, a catalogue of specialist training courses will be expanded and placed online to create ‘MOOCs’ (Massive Open Online Courses) which will be available worldwide. In Germany, an online network will aim to reduce the isolation of Jewish educators spread thinly across over 100 communities. In Johannesburg, a new consulting agency can now provide pedagogical training and mentoring to untrainedLimmudei Kodesh teachers in many schools. And in Montevideo, the Fund’s involvement has brought together the two major schools to build a multi-facetted strategy for educator development. This project grapples with challenges common to all communities such as recruiting the next generation of young teachers, upgrading the capacity of existing staff, recognizing the worth of teachers through professional incentives, and introducing the concept of ‘horim kmorim’ (parents as educators) to address the issue of dissonance between school and home. And there are more projects in this field ‘ in the pipeline’.

The Fund has also increased its investment in creative initiatives targeted at young leadership, and relating to special challenges facing college students and young adults. Outside the USA and Israel, the 18-24 student age population has remained, to say the least ‘under the radar screen’ (at least as measured in terms of community investment relative to other concerns). Young people are, in many cases, leaving the family nest, at a critical phase in intellectual development, moving into a challenging environment both in terms of free choice in identity building, and on the front line in facing anti-Semitism (especially in Europe). At this very moment they become, relatively speaking ‘low priority’ for the Jewish community. And that is not to demean the incredible work of a few international organizations, but to say that, relative to need and opportunity, investment in terms of thought, energy and financial support should be greater. The Fund supports creative, start-up responses with the potential to be scaled up and replicated. In France, for example, The Fund has helped the national Jewish student body to provide an educational program, which prepares students to participate in a round the clock internet monitoring and rapid response service, and provide sophisticated replies in ‘real time’ to postings attacking Jews and the Jewish people. And for the young adult population the Fund has helped Moishe House International to shape a strategy to sharpen and deepen Jewish educational content for 25-35 year olds (often with no or little background in Jewish life) who will lead peer to peer educational programs. The Fund also sponsors major initiatives in Germany and across Central and South America to create cadres of Jewishly well-informed young leadership.

Sometimes it is the need of the moment which produces a creative initiative and attracts the Fund’s attention. Supported by the Fund, a unique Summer Institute took place in Oxford University this August, bringing together over twenty academics from Universities across Europe. The Institute helped these academics to develop course units in contemporary anti-Semitism, with prior agreement from their institutions that the courses can be taught on campus. The Fund saw this educational contribution to respond to the pressing challenge of stemming the delegitimizing of Jews and Jewish life in Europe.

Sometimes it is a confluence of local circumstances, capacity and leadership that creates a local opportunity to address an issue with global implications. Changing attitudes – both on the part of the Jewish establishment and Israelis who have relocated to the Diaspora – is opening up new opportunities. The Jewish educational needs of second generation young Israelis in the Diaspora is of great concern to many Israeli parents who want to maintain and strengthen, rather than subjugate, a proud, secular, nationalistic, pluralistic identity with Hebrew language and culture at its core. This could have global implications for a potentially powerful resource to the Jewish people that, in previous times, was ignored if not shunned. In Amsterdam, building on the fortunate circumstances of a real community of Israelis, with talented educational leadership, running a successful Hebrew school, the Fund has made possible the creation of a laboratory and consulting service to help other Israelis across Europe to undertake similar initiatives.

As the recipient of funding requests from across the globe, the Fund has a field of vision that is, perhaps, broader than any single institution or community. In an effort to use this to make a contribution to the world of Jewish education, the Fund is also moving in a more proactive direction in responding to emerging needs. In this regard, the Fund is close to launching a global Job search engine, specifically for employers and prospective employees in Jewish education. On the whole, and despite increasing geographic and social mobility, employers tend to search only narrowly to fill key positions in their institutions. The idea behind what will be launched as JeducatorJobs.com is to enable a more sophisticated employment strategy on the part of practitioners in the field of Jewish education. A broader field of vision (and, it has to be said that at least a modest capacity to fund innovation) also enables thinking about, and potentially responding to, requests from new frontiers of Jewish life such as China; frontiers which are beyond the horizon for most establishment institutions but which may just be significant to the Jewish people in the medium to long term future. And the Fund also has an interest in using its broad reach to make connections, raise consciousness and, especially, deepen the conversation about Jewish educational issues. This is that initiative.

Simon Caplan is Director of Education at The Pincus Fund for Jewish Education.

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