Where we’ve come from
When BJE was founded in 1937, one part-time employee worked with 12 Jewish schools. Today, with 24 full-time and part-time staff members, BJE serves the second largest Jewish community nationwide behind New York, providing programs and activities that support an estimated 7,000 students in 57 early childhood centers; 9,700 students in 37 day schools; 10,000 children in 49 religious schools; and more than 2,500 teachers. Seventeen thousand unique visitors consult the JKidLA.com website each year, seeking information and connections to a broad range of Jewish educational opportunities; and those who want more personal assistance can find it through e-mail or phone conversations with BJE Concierges for Jewish Education.
“We receive hundreds of calls and online requests from people asking for everything— from where they can go for a family service for the high holidays to what Jewish preschools are available in their area,” Dr. Gil Graff, BJE Executive Director says. “Having that visibility and contact with people also informs us of gaps and allows us to let Jewish institutions know what opportunities people are looking for so that they can offer it.”
Where we’re going
BJE has developed and changed its service delivery over the years to meet changing needs. But its mission remains the same: to help Jewish educational institutions be all that they can be; and to connect individuals with the broad array of Jewish educational venues and opportunities available; and to help ensure that Jewish education is accessible to children and families.
One challenge that Jewish day schools share with secular private schools is financial sustainability and tuition affordability for families. BJE is helping schools to address the issue in a variety of ways, from access to affordable legal and IT consulting to classroom technology and training. Lay leaders and staff at participating schools are strengthening their fiscal health with help from expert “coaches” and mentors and endowment initiatives that allow schools to build long-term fundraising programs while continuing to meet current operating needs.
Another reality of modern life is the way people choose and create individualized Jewish educational journeys based on myriad sources and recommendations rather than just one. They might be interested in synagogue-sponsored opportunities, online and social-media based experiences, a traditional classroom setting, intensive retreats, service programs, youth groups or summer camp, among other choices. People may want to access activities or services from several Jewish institutions.
“One role BJE can play is convening willing partners to broaden our vision of what Jewish education might look like – at the same time, maximizing Jewish educational opportunities for children and families,” Gil says. “Institutional boundaries should be more permeable so that people can participate in everything they want to.”
“Organizations are as strong as their capacity to deliver—which is dependent on the investment of concerned entities and individuals. For 80 years the Jewish community of LA through the support of individual donors, foundations and grants from the Jewish Federation has made the projects we engage in possible,” Gil says. “I know that BJE will continue to play a vital role in Jewish education for generations to come.”