This article was originally posted in eJewish Philanthropy.
By Lior Krinsky and Dina Rabhan
Rosh Hashana is an auspicious time for renewal, reinvention and committing to doing things better than before. To remain relevant and current, nonprofits need to adopt this disposition all year round. To successfully compete for attention and funding, reflection and innovation can’t be relegated to only a New Year’s resolution.
At Jerusalem U, we’ve undergone a process of reflection and change for more than a year. It has been hard work and has required commitment, passion, and a willingness to turn a bright light on the inner workings of our organization. We’ve asked ourselves tough questions about our mission, our target market, our goals, and our strategy. We had to reflect on our effectiveness, review budgets, programs, and partner relationships. Everything has been on the table – often to our discomfort. A key piece of this review process has been an examination of our Israel education: specifically our Step Up For Israel program.
For nearly a decade, we’ve been proud to have Step Up For Israel as our flagship educational program. At the time of its inception in 2010, Step Up For Israel solved a pressing problem: campus anti-Israel activity was rising, students were overwhelmed by the negativity expressed toward Israel on campus, and our supplementary and day school educators needed classroom Israel resources that were both accessible to them and engaging for their students. Step Up For Israel was a program that was created with core educational elements, but was also constructed within an Israel advocacy framework.
Now, seven years later, after surveying the field, taking note of trends, and performing our own research, we realize that our students and educators need more than the Step Up For Israel model.
Our team agrees that teens need genuine Israel education: facility with the fundamentals, an understanding of history, context, and primary source materials. Students need education that engages them in complex, nuanced discussions regarding Jewish peoplehood and its relation to Israel, Zionism, the founding of the State, and Israel’s contemporary history and role in the world today. Our students are savvy, voracious consumers of information, and they need authentic education that takes them beyond talking points and advocacy. We decided to evolve to meet the new needs of the Millennial and Centennial generations, and the educators who teach them. And so, we made the tough call and have retired Step Up For Israel.
In its stead, we’ve created the Jerusalem U Media Lab. Media Lab is the home for the best of our current Israel education content, and where all our new digital resources, and short- and long-form Israel education films, will live. Media Lab embraces the tenets of modern digital learning: it makes our Israel education content open and accessible to anyone who wants it and seeks to create an online community of educators. In the Media Lab, our Israel education resources are now mostly free and easily available for use in classrooms around the world. Films focused on the Palestinian narrative, the refugee question, and other sensitive and complex topics that our teens desperately want to learn about and discuss are accessible to educators, where before they were hidden behind a paywall. A core piece of the Media Lab is our professional development resources, which are designed to foster dialogue and debate utilizing blogs, vlogs and podcasts.
We dream of transforming the Israel education landscape with an online community of educators, engaging in a dialogue and journey of authenticity, wrestling with the deep questions, and exploring Israel and all of our understandings of it.
As an organization that fully embraces innovation, we constantly grapple with the tensions of evolving to remain relevant and fresh while staying true to our mission and purpose as a goals-driven, Israel and Jewish identity education organization.
We will continue to communicate our challenges and self-assessment with bold transparency with the intention of contributing to a communal conversation about Israel education. Our shift toward dynamic, complex and nuanced Israel education is far from complete. We have a lot of work to do, and a lot of content to create. We’re excited to share our journey with a growing community of educators, and look forward to continuing on in this exciting new venture.