By Lee Chottiner
Jewish leaders have begun an initiative to improve the way Jewish Louisville educates its children and teens.
The Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence (JHFE) and the Jewish Federation of Louisville are partnering on the community-wide planning process for Jewish youth education, which they say is vital to the future of the Jewish community here.
“We really need to make sure the community is healthy far into the future by focusing on our kids – the next generation,” said Eric Goodman, a JHFE board member and chair of the seven-member steering committee that will consider the results of the study.
JHFE and the Federation have already addressed what Goodman calls “two legs” on the stool of Jewish youth engagement and education, offering grants to all local young people for Jewish overnight camp and Israel experiences. Addressing supplemental learning, he said, is the third leg.
JHFE has contracted with Plan A Advisors, a New York-based managerial and consulting firm, to study community youth education here, engaging with parents and children, rabbis and cantors, teachers and other stakeholders.
After that, the steering committee, with input from all major players, will “envision” an education plan that works for Louisville.
Plan A’s work, which includes helping to draft a budget, a funding plan and the final report, will be completed this summer.
Goodman said the initiative is concentrating on enhancing the community’s Jewish learning, not on starting a day school from scratch.
“We are really focusing on Jewish education for our youth, to make sure it is the best it can be and reaching the most kids possible,” he said.
The JHFE may consider a day school model in the future, he added. “It’s not a final verdict on the idea of day schools; it just that you have to bite off something you can chew, and this is what we decided to bite off.”
Evan Kingsley, a partner in Plan A, said his firm will conduct virtual one-on-one sessions, roundtables and workshops with parents, teachers, clergy, leaders of the various institutions and, of course, the students.
But he plans to go further afield than that.
“We’re also speaking with overnight camp directors,” Kingsley said. “They might have a sense of who Louisville’s kids are, what they come to overnight camp knowing and wanting to learn.”
For similar reasons, he also will contact the Jewish studies program at Indiana University, noting that many local kids go to college there.
Kingsley said Louisville, given its size and intimacy, could become a “model” for similar size cities launching their own Jewish learning studies.
“The community is small enough to grasp its parameters and get to know its key players,” he said, “and it’s large enough to put in place a range of programs and have significant impact.”
He stressed, though, that Plan A would not impose a plan on the Jewish community.
“It’s not Plan A’s job to tell Louisville’s Jewish community what to do,” he said “It’s our job to facilitate a planning process, so that the plan you adopt is Louisville’s plan and is unique to your community.”
JHFE Executive Director Jeff Polson reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to community education, though he stopped short of committing to funding the plan until his board sees the details.
“We have got to see, as anyone would, what the recommendation is,” Polson said, “what the level of community support is behind it, and then we’ll share it with our board.”
Joining Goodman on the steering committee are Becky Swansburg, Carol Jones, Corey Shapiro, Erik Siegel, Heather Gladstein and Jasmine Farrier-Frockt.
Sara Klein Wagner, president and CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville, is an ex-officio member.
She said the study is part of a joint Federation-JHFE initiative that includes subsidizing Jewish overnight camp and Israel experiences, providing all local children from Jewish households with these opportunities.
She called the initiative, Jewish Journeys.
“This is an exciting time for our community,” Wagner said. “JHFE and Federation are working collaboratively and in partnership, already propelling Jewish engagement for all children to a new level.”