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Change Is Happening: Holiday Inns and Jewish Education
by dropsofhoney
 Drops of Honey
Nov 14, 2010 | 3014 views | 0 0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Maggie Bar-Tura, COO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, contributed an interesting perspective to the recent essay collection on Jewish education that we are reviewing.  (See earlier blog postings for a link to the essay collection.)  Maggie's essay, Expanding Jewish Education in Challenging Times: Let All Who Are Hungry Come and Eat, uses Jewish camping to examplify her point but it is applicable to Jewish education across the board. 

In summary, Maggie's basic point is that most American Jewish households with children actually have less disposable income than is often assumed given the overall wealth of the American Jewish population.  She sites an example from a 2005 survey on Jewish education from Las Vegas which notes that 25% of children from Jewish families earning more than $100,000 annually attend Jewish overnight camp while only 5% of children from Jewish families earning less than $100,000 annually (which were 61% of Las Vegas Jewish households at the time) attend Jewish overnight camp.  Given that the survey was done before the recession, she assumes this difference is even more drastic today.  Fundraising alone is not sufficient in her opinion to correct the disparity and bring more kids into Jewish education:


Given the connection between income and participation, it becomes clear that if we want to increase participation in camp and other Jewish educational experiences, we need to create affordable quality options. Raising ever more money for scholarships to keep up with spiraling tuition costs is not the answer – the dollars necessary to reach the scale of participation to which we must aspire are simply not there.  ...[w]e can’t depend on a steady torrent of funds for scholarships in a time when our communities are struggling to assure the basic dignity of the most vulnerable among us. In order to take Jewish camp and other Jewish educational institutions to scale, we need to look for new business models that expand the range of opportunities to meet the range of financial wherewithal among the members of our community. This is not just smart business; it is a moral imperative for our Jewish future.

Maggie points to the hospitality industry as a model for how we need to rethink accessibility of Jewish education.  She points out that the Holiday Inn corporation has three levels of hotels: Crowne Plaza at the high end, Holiday Inns at the moderate level and Holiday Inn Express at the lower-cost end.  The Holiday Inn Expresses do not take business away from the higher-end hotels; They bring in new customers who could not afford the higher-end hotels anyways.  As long as the core value was kept at a quality level, in this case the hotel room itself, then the other amenities like restaraunts, spas, etc, were not necessary to have to bring in customers.  Maggie thinks that the Jewish community could learn a lot about cost-effectiveness from this model:


The Jewish community is not monolithic. In addition to the diversity of ethnic, racial, gender, and denomination that characterizes us, we are many different kinds of consumers. We need to get out into the field and listen – to understand what parents’ hopes are for their Jewish children, what are the dreams and passions of children, youth, and young adults. And then we need to deconstruct what we are already doing so that we can respond to those hopes and dreams. We need to be crystal clear about the core of our mission, revisit the trappings, re-imagine our programmatic offerings, and reinvent our product line so that all who are hungry for Jewish life may come and partake.

Maggie's idea resonates loudly as Jewish educational institutions are trying to reconfigure what they are and what are their end goals in this recession.  Here in Pittsburgh three congregations are currently involved in a healthy and holistic process of rethinking their supplementary schools in partnership with the Agency for Jewish Learning called the Congregational Supplementary Improvement Intiative, and more have expressed interest in doing so too.  There is also an ongoing conversation about what is adult education's goals and purposes. Our day schools also struggle to raise funds to maintain current programs.  It will be interesting to see if anyone is able to strip the product of these educational efforts down to a few simple core brand components and focus on providing quality for value tightly built around those components.  I am not talking about just cutting costs, but actually streamlining a leaner, tighter product that delivers those prioritized components since the larger menu of offerings is no longer affordable.  This will in turn actually make Jewish education more affordable to more people.

I think Maggie is right that it is nearly impossible to fund our way to giving everyone equal access to Jewish education in its current forms no matter where American Jews live.  We need to zero in on our expectations and fund accordingly, not keep raising funds for programs that are costing out the participation of the majority.  She concludes by saying:


We seek to grow Jewish education in challenging times. We could easily assume that the challenge of these times is economic, but the real challenge is to seize the opportunity to look at the world through fresh eyes. If we are bold and courageous the Great Recession will turn out to have been an extraordinary opportunity.

Now those are words worth opening the mini-bar for. 

One little quibble: Maggie and many others use the term "scholarships" to denote funds that are raised to provide financial aid for tuition.  Scholarships are actually monies rewarded to students who meet certain academic or other criteria.  These criteria could include financial need but is not solely based on it.  Money that is raised solely to help defer tuition costs to students who must demonstrate financial need is better termed as "financial aid" or "sponsorship."  It may seem like semantics, but ideally scholarship is something to be attained or earned and "sponsorship" is something everyone who has the need should be granted.  Like I said, a little quibble but a pet one for me.

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