Item: On September 21, 1997, more than 300 day school leaders (plus representatives of several federations, foundations and national agencies) met in Chicago to argue the need for dramatically increased funding of day schools. The sponsoring organization, the National Day School Scholarship Committee, has launched a highly vocal campaign to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure that every Jewish family that wishes to do so will be able to send its children to a day school, regardless of the family’s financial circumstances. Stimulated by the Scholarship Committee, the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF) and the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) have formed a blue-ribbon task force to address the issues of funding, affordability and long-term viability of day schools.

Item: One week later, on September 28, Israel Experience, Inc. (IEI) announced that it was offering $1 million dollars to Israel program providers to subsidize new four-week trips for teens that would cost no more than $2,500. IEI, established as a joint venture by a group of “heavy-hitters” in the Jewish world – the CRB Foundation, Council of Jewish Federations, United Jewish Appeal, Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israel Ministry of Tourism – began work at the beginning of 1997 with the aim of getting thousands more Jewish young people to Israel on “Israel experience” programs. The Request for Proposals was made based on research indicating that the typical price of $4,000 or more for existing five- or six-week trips was a barrier to participation for many families.

Item: The next month, on October 21, a group of 11 private philanthropists and the UJA-Federation of New York held a press conference to announce the formation of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. With $18 million in funding from the partners over the next five years, and a staff headed up by one of North America’s leading day school educators, the Partnership will make grants and offer technical support to help up to 30 new day schools get started in locales that are currently underserved. The Partnership is placing an emphasis on ensuring the quality of these start-ups, with the aim of making day school education both available and attractive to families not currently enrolling their children.

Item: In December, Synagogue 2000, a trans-denominational effort to revitalize synagogue life, held its second national conference for participating congregations. The project involves 16 pilot congregations nationwide, working with a team of consultants and advisers, and is funded by several prominent Jewish foundations. One key concern of the project is how to make synagogues more “welcoming” to members and prospective members through changes in ambiance, organizational culture and day-to-day behavior of clergy, lay leaders and even office staff. Participating synagogues are encouraged to learn how to engage and involve members, guests and “seekers” more effectively by emulating institutions like Disneyland and Christian “mega-churches.”