Thursday, January 14, 2010

MLK and Shared Dreams H.S. Lesson

Here is a link to a lesson I wrote when I was working for the BJE of Orange County.
The lesson is based on the book and associated lesson plan book

SHARED DREAMS: Martin Luther King, Jr. & The Jewish Community



The lesson is most appropriate for 10th-12th graders.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Minding the Gap

Kaplan PSAT/SAT 20hrs of private tutoring = $2,599
Kaplan SAT Class, 8 lessons (approx. 20 hours) = $499
Gymnastics Class, 1 session (50 minutes) per week @ $75/month x 9 months = $675
Tennis Lessons, with Junior Pro, $75/hr x 30 weeks = $2,250

Jewish education = it's always too much (according to the parents).

When Jewish education institutions provide high-quality, high-impact programming to children and their families, somehow we can never charge what it is exactly costing us to implement the programs, much less to even make a little profit to invest in other agency programs.

For example, one program I know of costs a community bewteen $1200-$1800 per teen (depending on enrollment numbers) to run the program. It takes place two and a half hours per week, 25-30 weeks a year, with highly respected teaching faculty, social breaks with breakfast or lunch, a few parent programs, and occasional guest speakers. However, the agency that runs the program feels that the parents won't pay anything more than $400 per year. (BTW, this comes out to about $5.75 per hour - less than babysitting these days!) How do we mind (aka fund) this gap?

There are only two ways to do it (that I know of - suggestions welcome):
a) Philanthropists
b) Change the culture of what families will pay for services

I will leave the discussion of philanthropists and turn to the issue of parents and financial priorities.

When we know parents are making significant financial investments in non-Jewish activities like SAT Prep and Tennis Lessons (itemized above), how do we make the case for investing these dollars in Jewish education? How do we convince them that they should pay more for quality Jewish education than they do for babysitting? and even for SAT prep courses? How do we articulate the need for their children to have a Jewish education in order to have a solid future (which seems to be how they view the other activities)?

In most circles, it would articulated that parents have been trained (over generations) to not pay for Jewish education because:
a) congregations/agencies wanted to limit the barriers to participation so they began offering low-cost portals;
b) the quality has been collectively so poor over the years that consumers don't want to invest significant dollars; and
c) we haven't made the case, again over generations, that Judaism is critical to a successful future

In some ways, it might now be a self-fulfilling "prophecy" and it could now be "chicken-and-the-egg." Meaning, we now have fixedness (see SIT) in terms of our budgets and therefore we assume we can't offer something new, something risky, something innovative and something with high(er)-expenses attached to it. I sometimes hear my colleagues be stifled in their imagination simply because the budget won't support it. And because we don't offer new and imaginative programs filled with "surprise and delight" (thank you Amy Sales for that phrase!) we perpetuate the stigma of passe (aka boring) religious education programs.

And, on the flip side, the more innovative and creative we are, the more we include immersion and experiential techniques into our offerings, the more the programs cost - and for now we can't turn that cost over as a direct fee-for-service. Caught in the paradox!

I am not sure how we address the issue of convincing parents that Judaism is critical to a successful future, but I know we aren't paying attention to this important issue. It should be on the agenda of Jewish education change agents to somehow combat this part of the gap. We have to collectively work to alter the perception and create a universal brand message about role of Judaism in life-long success (and certainly worth more than babysitting!) and therefore worth the financial investment to have quality Jewish experiences.

There are a lot of moving pieces to this gap between what it costs to run amazing Jewish education experiences and what we are charging ... and somehow we have to mind this gap and not perpetuate it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Good for Israel! Not Good for the Jews?

had not been to Ben Yehuda Street in 12 years. I had been to Israel twice during that time, but Ben Yehuda had been deemed "unsafe" for travel groups and therefore off our itinerary. As a result of these restrictions, I had heard that over time Ben Yehuda had become a ghost town.

This past Saturday night, I hopped over to Ben Yehuda to meet a friend (who was staffing a birthright trip with Hillel). And the street was a mob scene (see photos to the right). Shops, restaurants, and cafe's were wall-to-wall people. Street performers could be observed every few feet. The noise was deafening and the energy electrifying. And it was clear, this crowd was 99% due to Birthright Israel buses converging on the popular shopping area after Shabbat ended. No question - Birthright is good for Israel. It is good for Israel's economy. It is good for Israel's image.

But I once again had to ask, just because it's good for Israel, does it mean that is it good for the Jewish people? And I am pretty sure that the answer is ..... depends on how you look at it.

Having staffed two Birthright trips (2004 and 2005), I see that there was a great place for Birthright in assisting young adults who couldn't go to Israel during the intifada (many of their trips were cancelled) to make their way to Israel. However, there are no more of these students remaining.

There is a large number of young adults who are marginally (if at all) connected to their Judaism and Birthright gives them a no-barrier access point to their heritage. For this, Birthright is great for the Jews.

I have heard stories of young married interfaith couples (where one partner has recently converted to Judaism) who travel on Birthright together. For this, Birthright is great for the Jews.

But, there are many reasons Birthright isn't great for the Jews.

Take for instance, the amount of alcohol that is consumed during Birthright trips. While wondering the packed Ben Yehuda street, I watched as four Birthright participants stood in a circle passing (and chugging) two 1-litre bottles: one of vodka and the other of orange juice. While the buses hosting older participants (22-26) don't necessary have the same issues, I know from personal experience that the young participants (18-21) take full advantage of the lower drinking age in Israel ... to a serious detriment. Many participants travel through the country hung over, sometimes having to stop the buses to be sick. Some participants even end up spending a few hours in a Magen David Adom clinic being treated for alcohol poisoning. Alcohol abuse is prevalent on Birthright trips. This is NOT good for the Jews.

In some ways, many Birthright participants bring a little part of Vegas with them on their Israel trip. "What happens in Israel, stays in Israel." I have witnessed, time and time again, young adults on Birthright trips being incredibly promiscuous. Hopping from room to room at night ... having contests to "hook" the Israeli's imbedded on their trips .... keeping track of who can lure the trip's shomer (guard) into bed ... picking up random Israeli's and giving out their hotel information. This is NOT good for the Jews.

In terms of pure exposure to the country, the people, and the history, ten days is just tiny glimpse. Because Birthright has a policy that a young adult is ineligible for the program if s/he has been on a previous peer trip, many teens (and their parents) are opting to skip in-depth teen programs for this free excursion. This NOT good for the Jews.

Developmentally, it is much more effective to have a teenager (15-18) spend between four and eight weeks (or longer) in Israel, than it is for a college student/young adult spend 10 days racing from city to city. However, the cost differential is a hard sell to families. Most trips run about $1000 a week and Birthright is free. As a result, teens and their parents are opting to "wait for Birthright" (I have heard it hundreds of times) rather than invest in a program that will have a much greater - and a much healthier - impact on the participant.

Several teen organizations have banded together to promote the quality and impact of the teen experience. Lapid is working as a coalition to spread the word and lobby for recognition and financial support that is equal to that of Birthright.

I was recently at the Federation General Assembly and heard over and over (and over ad nauseum) again about Birthright and MASA. No one mentioned the phenomenal statistics teen programs produce in relation to affiliation, philanthropy, and in-marriage. Having teen programs be ignored by the Jewish media, the Jewish Agency and Jewish Federation of North America is NOT good for the Jews.

So what lies in front of us is a challenge ... to create a situation that is not only good for Israel but great for the Jews too. I am by no means advocating that Birthright disappear (it's too good for Israel!) ... but perhaps be modified:
  1. be more selective and targeted to the types of young adults it brings (i.e. those with minimal or no prior connection to Jewish community)
  2. have funders also provide funding to in-depth teen programs
  3. partner with teen programs to mass-advertise Israel experience

We must capitalize on the energy and the "economy" of Birthright while still capturing the impact of teen programs.

Disclaimer: I am not sure how coherent this blog posting is ... as I am writing it under full jet-lag. What an amazing 19 days in Israel I had (also good for its economy!).