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Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA)

JEWISH EDUCATION SERVICE OF NORTH AMERICA (JESNA). The Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) formally came into being on July 1, 1981 as the successor agency to the *American Association for Jewish Education (AAJE) founded in 1939.

In 1978, AAJE and the *Council of Jewish Federations (CJF) jointly appointed a "Committee to Consider Future Directions of the AAJE" which affirmed the need for a continental instrument for Jewish educational planning and services for the federation system. An Implementation Committee supervised the restructuring of the agency into JESNA and put in place a new governance in accordance with the recommendation of the Study Committee.

JESNA's goal is to make engaging, inspiring, high quality Jewish education available to every Jew in North America. Operating as a national resource, a community partner, a catalyst and a consultant, an innovator and a guarantor of quality, JESNA helps to recruit and prepare new generations of talented, committed Jewish educators; create and identify models of excellence in educational practice; and assist communities and front-line institutions in improving their programs and performance.

JESNA partners with local Jewish communities and with a dynamic and a growing group of individuals, organizations, institutions, and foundations to create consistent excellence in Jewish education. In addition, JESNA works closely with the central agencies for Jewish education that operate in more than 60 communities, and the Jewish federations in more than 150 communities, throughout North America.

JESNA has become a leading force promoting consistent excellence in Jewish education through a combination of high-quality community services and innovative initiatives that address Jewish education's foremost challenges. JESNA is responsive to the evolving needs of the community, which in the early 21st century focused on three overarching areas of activity:

a) People: Recruiting talented educators and creating the conditions that will enable them to thrive;

b) Best Practice: Identifying and disseminating models of excellence in educational practice; and

c) Innovative Solutions: Developing creative new approaches to expand the impact of Jewish education.

JESNA works to significantly improve Jewish educator recruitment and retention and to mobilize a coalition of communal leaders – both lay and professional – who will make this vision a reality. Teaching in Jewish schools was often a secondary career for those teaching elsewhere and in need of earning additional funds, or a way station for Israelis en route to Americanization. With the expanding day school movement in the United States there was a great need for initiatives to achieve three primary goals: attracting talented people into the field of Jewish education; creating a culture of support for Jewish educators within Jewish institutions; and developing meaningful career paths to allow people to grow and advance as Jewish educators throughout their lives. JERRI, the Jewish Educator Recruitment and Retention Initiative, was created to harness ideas, expertise, and resources from throughout the community to re-create Jewish education as an honored, joyous and sacred profession. JERRI is convening a broad consortium of partners to experiment with ideas and to implement programs that will catalyze the changes needed to imprint this vision onto reality.

JESNA works to identify and disseminate models of excellence in educational practice by providing expertise, resources, research and evaluation, and training. JESNA's Mandell L. Berman Jewish Heritage Center for Research and Evaluation in Jewish Education is uniquely placed to develop this combination of expertise, information, and communication that has the potential to effect major change in the Jewish world. With years of hands-on experience evaluating Jewish education programs, curricula, and innovative ventures, the Center has a talented and experienced staff, an extensive body of research, and strong relationships within the Jewish education community.

The Center's métier is evaluation, and in the world of Jewish education, it has a twofold effect. On the local level, evaluation enhances Jewish education programs, materials, and initiatives by assessing their impact and advising changes that improve quality and effectiveness. More globally, each evaluation contributes to a broader understanding of what works and what does not throughout Jewish education. Using findings from the nearly 80 evaluations of Jewish education programs and studies of Jewish education issues that it has completed since 1992, the Berman Center possesses the beginnings of a database of best practices and solid research that can be disseminated throughout the Jewish world.

The Berman Center seeks to increase and improve the utilization of evaluation to improve the quality of Jewish educational programs in North America; to raise the prominence and support the field of Jewish educational research; and to achieve a greater understanding of factors leading to Jewish identity, educational change, and improvement.

In addition to working to improve existing programs, JESNA develops creative new approaches to expand the impact of Jewish education. JESNA's Lippman Kanfer Institute is an action-oriented think tank for innovation in Jewish learning and engagement, focusing on designing and infusing the educational system with new ideas and approaches that enable Jewish education to respond effectively to a rapidly changing world.

JESNA uses its three-pronged strategy to strengthen and improve key educational domains such as congregational education (through its Center for Excellence in Congregational Education) and youth (through its Youth Initiatives Program).

JESNA works closely with central agencies for Jewish education and federations in more than 150 communities throughout North America.

In July 2013, JESNA officially ended its operations. Jonathan Woocher, the former President and Chief Ideas Officer of JESNA, was quoted in early 2013 as saying, “The multipurpose national service agency model that was prevalent when JESNA was established in 1981 is not as relevant as it used to be.”

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
Julie Wiener, “JESNA To Shut Down After 32 Years,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, (June 7, 2013).
“Jonathan Woocher z”l,” Lippman Kanfer Foundation For Living Torah.