If the closure of the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning and its replacement by a Jewish Federation of Greater Washington education department changes the priority our community gives to Jewish education, we hope it will only be to raise it. So much of Jewish life revolves around learning that a community that merely pays lip service to this ideal cannot thrive.
The demise of the Partnership as an agency that served local Jewish educational institutions — synagogues, supplementary schools, preschools, day schools and others — came as a result of the economic downturn and the inability of the Partnership’s board and leadership to raise sufficient funds to support the central education resource programs of the Partnership. Unfortunately, that result is not unique. Stand-alone education agencies have been disappearing from the Jewish landscape for some time. And the loss of that resource is particularly threatening to synagogue supplementary schools. But there’s no reason that good work can’t be done from inside an agency such as the Federation — especially as it relates to education consulting, curriculum development and teacher training, which are vitally important to making teachers and schools better, but which don’t require extensive facilities or classrooms.
Beyond the important administrative and educational services that are so important to the community, there is one other feature of the stand-alone model that we encourage our Federation to replicate: the hiring of an education advocate — a charismatic master teacher who inspires teachers, students and donors, and who will crusade for improvement of the Jewish education offerings in our community, while inspiring others to join in the enterprise. Without such a leader, we worry that there will be no communal education lobbyist who will keep the enhancement of quality Jewish education at the top of our community’s to-do list.
The influence of the Jewish education agenda has broadened in recent decades to reach beyond classroom walls and includes camps, youth groups, family settings, adults and the disabled. Since Jewish life involves a lifelong learning process, this broader agenda simply recognizes the Jewish reality. Yet the treasure of Jewish knowledge will not attract learners without strong advocates and good teachers. And strong advocates and good teachers cost money. Quality Jewish education costs money. But it is well worth the investment.
The challenge for the Federation is to pick up where the Partnership left off, and to inspire donors to embrace and to support the communal imperative of high quality Jewish education.