Bay Area JCRC’s Institute for Curriculum Services spins off into independent organization

Organization looks to address inaccurate and biased depictions of Jews and Judaism in K-12 schools, will take on a more national view

The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Bay Area’s initiative to improve K-12 curricula about Judaism and Jewish history will spin off into an independent, national organization next month, the organization exclusively told eJewishPhilanthropy.

The Institute for Curriculum Services launched in 2005 in order to address the “inaccurate and biased picture of Jews and Judaism” that was found in history and social studies textbooks.

“Textbooks routinely misrepresented the meaning of Passover, and not one but four major history textbooks for middle school wrongly described the holiday as a celebration of the killing of the Egyptian firstborn,” Aliza Craimer Elias, the initiative’s director, said in a statement to eJP. “Instructional content was rife with inaccuracies, and key historical context and events were missing altogether. Students reading these textbooks would be hard-pressed not to develop antisemitic attitudes towards Jews.”

“This reality, coupled with the fact that millions of K-12 students learn about Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history as part of their state curricula each year, underscored the importance of a comprehensive national solution,” Craimer Elias said. “While some organizations focused on professional development related to Holocaust education, no organization was focused on K-12 education and Jewish content writ large.”

The issue of K-12 education about issues relating to Israel and Jews has only grown in significance over the past 19 years, as seen by last month’s hearing in Congress on the topic and Jewish groups’ expansion into this area in recent years.

According to the JCRC Bay Area, ICS will continue to work with it on local issues, particularly on California’s contentious ethnic studies curriculum — an area of near-constant concern for Jewish groups since it was required by law in 2021.

“Nationally, ICS will continue to collaborate with a wide range of partners to advance its mission of accurate K-12 education across the United States,” the organization said.

Since its founding, ICS has made instructional materials available for educators for free, trained over 18,000 educators and administrators in all 50 states and achieved 14,000 “tangible improvements to instructional materials and state standards,” she added.

“Today, ICS is a $2.8 million national initiative with a growing team. With recognition of our effectiveness, increased investments nationally, and a strong strategic plan, ICS is well situated to strengthen K-12 education so that all students can receive accurate and nuanced information about Jews. ICS has a clear roadmap and vision for expanded impact nationwide,” Craimer Elias said.

ICS is also involved in curricula related to the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, which Craimer Elias said can be controversial. 

“ICS is committed to historical accuracy and to best practices in history education,” she said in a statement. “ICS does not endorse sides or specific solutions. Rather we support accurate and nuanced history education grounded in primary sources.”

The decision to launch ICS as an autonomous 501(c)3 nonprofit was made “after lengthy consideration by stakeholders and a unanimous vote by the board of directors of ICS’ parent organization, JCRC Bay Area,” according to the organization.

“JCRC’s conception of ICS, under the leadership of our Executive Director Emeritus Rabbi Doug Kahn, is part of our legacy of innovation in the Jewish communal landscape,” Tye Gregory, JCRC Bay Area’s CEO, said in a statement. “In this moment of unprecedented antisemitism in America, including in K-12 education, the need for accurate education on Jews, Judaism and Jewish history is more critical than ever. Being fully independent will allow ICS to grow even more substantially across diverse regions of the country.”

ICS is now building its inaugural board of directors. The DRG consulting firm has also been brought on to locate a CEO for the newly independent organization. Craimer Elias will stay on with the organization in a “new executive position overseeing ICS’s programs, strategic initiatives and Jewish community partnerships,” the JCRC Bay Area said.

A JCRC Bay Area spokesperson told eJP that since ICS has always done its own fundraising, the organization is prepared financially to break out on its own.

“It is in great financial shape as we begin the transition to building it into its own 501(c)3,” the spokesperson said. “We fully expect that it will emerge stronger than ever from the transformation and, indeed, will stand the test of time.”