Lasday to leave CAJE for national Jewish education post

BY JOE HARRIS, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

In many ways, it is the best of times and the worst of times for St. Louis’ Central Agency for Jewish Education (CAJE). In April, CAJE Executive Vice President Jeffrey Lasday announced he would be leaving Sept. 30 to take the position of executive director for the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, also known as CAJE, in New York City. While friends and colleagues know they have a big hole to fill, Lasday leaves CAJE with a strong legacy of Jewish education and a national reputation for excellence.

This August will mark the ninth year that Lasday has been the executive vice president of CAJE. Lasday said CAJE’s biggest accomplishments during his tenure have been the establishments of a teacher certification program, professional excellence grants for the reformed community and an Israel Experience Center.

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“The two latter programs focus on teachers,” Lasday said. “That really is at the core of CAJE’s mission — quality education in St. Louis … What’s nice about the teacher certification program is that it crosses denominational boundaries. It provides opportunities and resources for continuing study and leadership training and the chance to be recognized by the community.”

Ed Becker, CAJE board president, has worked with Lasday since his arrival. He says Lasday has accomplished three major goals during his tenure.

“One, he provided a vision for Jewish education,” Becker said. “He has been here nine years, and what he has been able to do is bring national exposure locally and elevate CAJE’s vision.

“Two, he elevated the status of the board. It goes back to building community and making CAJE the central location for Jewish education in St. Louis.

“Three, he’s done a great job of securing a strong relationship with the Jewish Federation. I think that is a really important piece considering the allocation the Jewish Federation has given to CAJE.”

He said the process for replacing Lasday has not officially begun and that there is no timetable to name a successor.

“We want somebody with a national vision of Jewish education,” Becker said, “someone with leadership skills who can develop a diverse staff.”

Becker said a national search committee will be formed in the coming weeks.

The first question the committee will have to answer is how long will the process take? Becker said if the committee determines that it will take longer than a couple of months, it will possibly look at naming an interim executive vice president.

Whoever takes over will have a strong foundation to build upon, thanks in large part to Lasday’s efforts.

“When Jeff moves on, this is probably one of the best educational positions in the country,” Becker said.

Barry Rosenberg, Jewish Federation vice president, hopes Lasday’s replacement will continue to find new ways and approaches to make afternoon and weekend Hebrew schools more effective in reaching the children who attend them. He said Lasday will be missed.

“I think Jeff was a passionate advocate of Jewish education,” Rosenberg said. “He helped advocate the importance of Jewish education within the community.”

Marsha Grazman of the Saul Mirowitz Day School was a part of the original search committee that brought Lasday to CAJE. She said Lasday’s strength was his ability to help the teachers in the supplementary schools grow. “I enjoyed working with him all the way through,” Grazman said. “Along the way I hope he learned the skills to help him in the next arena. He’s a great reflection on us.”

Lasday will officially take over for the retiring Eliot Spack on Jan. 1, 2007. He will start at the Coalition on Dec. 1, to work with Spack for a month to facilitate a smooth transition.

Lasday takes over an organization that he perceives to be at a crossroads. The coalition was originally a rebellious organization formed in the 1970s that challenged the traditional Jewish educational establishment. Now the Coalition is the establishment.

“So what do you do when the revolutionary movement becomes the establishment?” Lasday said. “You can no longer throw stones at the establishment.”

Instead, Lasday hopes to create stronger ties with local central agencies throughout the country — much like the agency he is leaving. Lasday will return to St. Louis in August 2007, when St. Louis hosts the Coalition’s annual Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education at Washington University.

Lasday will be joined in New York by his wife, Lori. The couple has two grown children, David and Ilana.

“I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with rabbis, lay leaders and educators across denominations,” Lasday said. “I’ve been able to represent St. Louis on a national level and the people I have worked with have seen how the national organization works.”