JESNA Says Farewell with Integrity

The Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) made the difficult decision to cease its program operations in 2013; however the agency held its final Board meeting in New York last month.

Why such a long gap? JESNA Board Chair Cass Gottlieb and 27-year JESNA professional veteran Jonathan Woocher collaborated on an essay published on July 7 on took the time to explain.

JESNA’s decision was prompted by the evolution of Jewish education and dwindling support from federations. “But, the leadership of the agency was determined that JESNA’s closure be done with dignity and responsibility, and the agency’s mission advanced even with its demise,” Gottlieb and Woocher wrote.

JESNA’s Board first ensured that staff received the severance they were due. A special allocation form the Alliance, a group of federations that provided the bulk of JESNA’s support, and a final fundraising campaign ensured that all creditors were paid in full.

“We believe that the Board’s commitment not to file for bankruptcy, and the members’ willingness to back that up with their own contributions, was an important statement about what it means to exercise responsible stewardship of a Jewish communal organization,” the writers continued.

JESNA’s Board also ensured that the agency’s flagship programs found new homes. So today, even though JESNA has closed its doors, its Lainer Israel Fellows, Grinspoon Teacher Awards, Jewish Futures Conferences and other projects continue to exist.

The JESNA Board was also faced with the task of deciding how to distribute three-quarters of a million dollars in endowment funds that were given to help the agency pursue its Jewish educational objective. After doing their due diligence, the Board selected 10 worthy agencies, enumerated by Gottlieb and Woocher in their post:

ADCA (Association of Directors of Central Agencies), to promote inter-community collaboration;
CASJE (Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education), to support small-scale research projects;
Covenant Foundation, for an initiative in the area of family education;
Education and Jewish Studies Program at NYU, for an Innovation Lab;
Hebrew at the Center, to pilot an assessment based approach to strengthening Hebrew language teaching and learning;
Jewish New Teacher Project, to train additional mentor teachers;
Nitzan Network, to support alternative Jewish after-school programs;
Paradigm Project, to establish a coaching academy for early childhood educators;
RAVSAK, for their Head of School Professional Excellence Project;
Workmen’s Circle, to plan new culturally-oriented supplementary school programs.

JESNA is now in the process of distributing its assets and will formally file for dissolution once the distribution is complete. The agency has ensured that its legacy will enable others to continue its innovative work in Jewish education.

Louisville’s Bob Sachs served on JESNA’s Board for at least 15 years, including four years as treasurer. He was part of the Board and the Finance committee until the end, and was one of the Board members who stepped up to ensure that JESNA would fulfill its mandate until the end with all obligations met. At the closing meeting, Woocher singled Sachs out for his financial leadership, and later wrote, “Thanks, Bob. We literally could not have done it without your leadership.”

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