The following was written in response to an op-ed “It’s time for Jewish Federation to revisit education priorities” by Russel Neiss, published on May 13.
Building a vibrant Jewish Community is a core commitment and priority of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. Part of building that vibrant community must be and does include, deepening and expanding Jewish education and investing in and supporting Jewish educational opportunities. So, when an op-ed is written about Federation’s commitment to education, we want to make sure our community knows about our plans and what we are doing for the community.
Federation’s own strategic plan states that we work primarily through supporting and collaborating with existing agencies, synagogues and other organizations and will directly provide services only in limited circumstances where we can more effectively and/or efficiently do so, gaps exist or there is a need for community- wide coordination. Our community is fortunate to have thriving institutions that offer meaningful educational experiences for students of all ages. Federation’s priority is to support that work, not duplicate or compete.
We also ensure that those efforts by our community partners are supplemented in a variety of ways. Federation continues to provide scholarship support for adult Jewish education through the Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning hosted by Temple Emanuel. A few examples include our Sh’ma Listen! Speaker Series that offers and promotes a wide variety of engaging educational offerings sponsored by Federation and our community partners. The Brodsky Library Committee continues to provide programs that meet the interest of its audience, and our Israel Center has hosted several high-level educational virtual tours and speakers to educate the community on current events related to Israel and the Jewish people.
Mentioned in the article (on this page, by Russel Neiss) was our three Professional Councils for Directors of our religious schools, early childhood centers and youth groups. These Councils are led by professionals themselves who know the issues and needs and play a vital role in providing a network of support to our professionals who work tirelessly to create a vibrant Jewish community for our youngest members from birth to teens. As a result, a significant investment was made by Federation into our early childhood directors to enable our ECCs to thrive and flourish for years to come.
But there was another message froom the op-ed piece that we want to address that was somehow intertwined with the work we already do within our community. The Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program is a state-funded opportunity to direct dollars to parochial education. While we, and most of our day schools, were not supportive of the way this program brings together the traditionally separated church and state lines, now that the program has been voted into existence it cannot be ignored. Several Federations around the country are actively engaged with similar private school funding programs through their states and help and administer the programs for the Jewish communities they serve.
Let us be clear: We are very interested in the support this program can bring to our community’s day schools and to families who already take advantage of, or want to take advantage of private Jewish school options. We are doing the work necessary to see if it fits into the scope of what we can do and should do for the community, including meeting with state officials who administer the program at the end of the month. There is another round of partnership opportunities this fall, and we are exploring applying then. Rest assured that we are doing the work and having the conversations necessary to bring the benefits of this state sponsored opportunity to our entire day school community. We hope to have more information on the timing of this soon and will let everyone know when we have more information.
We want to thank Russel Neiss for giving us the opportunity to address our community by raising this question in the public forum and we hope if anyone has more questions about Federation, you take the time to visit our website, JFedSTL.org, to see all we do within and for the education community or certainly, call us with any questions.