Catalyzing Jewish Networks: How Can Jewish Schools and Camps Join In?

by Leah Meir

“Jewish geography” is a favorite game among Jews who meet up anywhere – conferences, social gatherings, work meetings, street corners. You know the game questions: “So where are you from?” “No kidding, New Jersey! Do you know my brother (son, daughter, sister), who went to school (camp, college) there?” “Sure, I know your brother (son, daughter etc.) – We were really friendly at school (camp, college etc.)! I actually just connected with him (her) again through Facebook (Twitter, LinkedIn).”

Jews have been master networkers since the Babylonian exile 3,000 years ago – our survival as a people has depended on the ability to stay connected with fellow Jews wherever they were scattered across the globe. Our networking helped us hold fast to our shared values, texts, behaviors and religious traditions.

Jewish geography was just the jumping-off point at the recent “NetWORKS” conference in Boulder: “Exploring the Power and Possibilities of Networks in the Jewish Community.” The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation hosted 36 hours of discussion of “the power and possibilities of networks as a tool for strengthening both the Jewish community and the broader world.” In other words: let’s appreciate the power of the networking that the Jewish people has been doing for millennia and harness all those multiple relationships toward common goals and values.

The power of these webs of relationships to lead to common goals and actions is termed “social capital.” Social capital has to be based on trust and reciprocity, give and take. Personal relationships and networks are the heart of social capital, with technology and social media amplifying and expanding the networks in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago.

It’s not only the younger innovators and the “start-up” folks who are recognizing the power of these relationships in building a 21st century paradigm of Jewish community. Prominent foundations in the Jewish community such as the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and The AVI CHAI Foundation, are moving toward what Adene Sacks of the Jim Joseph Foundation, calls “a network mindset” in a recent post in eJewishPhilanthropy.

We at AVI CHAI have begun by helping Jewish day schools and summer camps to think and function in a more networked way. They each have potentially powerful networks of alumni linked by relationships built during their years of positive Jewish experiences together. Last spring and summer, we sponsored a “Social Media Academy” for eight New York-area day schools led by Darim Online, in which they learned how a “Networked Nonprofit” thinks and behaves; they each established ongoing conversations with their alumni and parents using social media. We’re now sponsoring a “Jewish Day School Video Academy” for day schools throughout North America in which they are learning how to make and distribute online videos about their schools. It will culminate in the “Jewish Day School Video Academy Awards”, a contest in which two schools will each win first prizes of $10,000 for a five-minute video created as a result of participating in the Academy training; one of the prizes will be awarded by a panel of judges and the other by public voting. There will be second and third prizes in each of the two categories as well. The academy was developed and is being run by See3 Communications.

These are examples of first attempt to enable Jewish schools and camps to harness the power of their networks. We’re interested in your suggestions for ways to transform Jewish day schools and camps into “networked nonprofits” with the power to energize their networks to act in support of intensive and immersive Jewish education. Send us your comments, ideas and suggestions. We believe that there’s power in our network too!

Leah Nadich Meir is a Program Officer at The AVI CHAI Foundation.

Cross-posted from blog.

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  1. says

    I applaud creative initiatives on behalf of the Jewish community, particularly those aimed at Jewish teens, where our future lies.

    I also need to share my frustration that I posted about on my blog called “Non-Day School Jewish Teens: Orphans in the Field”

    An excerpt: “I do need to advocate for the thousands of Jewish teens out there that are not currently enrolled in day school. I think day schools are a fine option for those families who have made that choice. As Jewish educators we generally believe in the ‘more is better’ axiom.

    But for those teens who have opted for a different educational setting, there is little attention/money/support paid to them.”

    True networking involves all stakeholders! Let’s not ignore those students who are participating in the Jewish community, just not in ways that seem to get funding.

  2. Tamar says

    Hi Leah,

    I agree that it is definitely time for schools to become far more networked. And as Ruth states in her comment above, networking should not jus be limited to day school students.

    Since it’s inception, Sviva Israel has been working to connect and network day schools AND supplementary schools, and our dream is to expand our network to include summer camps, day camps and Jewish kids in public schools too.

    With our Eco Campus online platform we are already connecting students from diverse educational frameworks in three countries and two languages, and we would love to see Avi Chai and others join us in harnessing the power of our platform to energize your networks.

    Tamar Wisemon
    Director of Media & Technology
    Sviva Israel – Eco Campus

  3. Leah Nadich Meir says

    Ruth and Tamar:
    Your points about the importance of networking to benefit both day school students and those enrolled in congregational, supplementary and regional schools are well taken. My post focused on day schools and camps since AVI CHAI focuses on them as strong vehicles for developing a nucleus of Jewishly literate and engaged young people. But I agree that the networking and connections among schools and camps of different types, among students in those schools and camps and between Israeli and Diaspora young people can be a “win-win” for all.

  4. Ruth Schapira says

    Thank you for your response Leah. I know that AVICHAI is directly responsible for many creative programs that will hopefully change the landscape of the Jewish community for the future, and the one you write about sounds like it will be one of those game-changing initiatives.

    However, Jewish communal funding has been almost entirely aimed at precisely the populations you mention, plus those already on the college campus. That fact alone might belie underlying assumptions and judgments made about the Jewish commitment of students who have chosen not to participate in day school. I’ve written extensively about this issue at

    Numerous studies have demonstrated that when years of schooling are taken into account, there are not great discernible differences between day school students and those who have been involved in Jewish education for seven years or more.

    I’m simply advocating for the thousands of Jewish teens who are equally committed to their Jewish identity and the future of the Jewish community. Based on the above information, I remain highly committed to that goal.