JOFEE Fellowship:
Learnings as the Field Grows

Cohort 1 Fellows planting succulents during midyear seminar.

By Judith Belasco, Yoshi Silverstein and Steven Green

This is the single most impactful Jewish experience of my life … I have probably never felt more empowered to go and help build the world we want to see.”
Henry Schmidt, Cohort 3, Shalom Institute

Three years ago, Rachel Binstock was ready for a change after close to two years at Eden Village Camp – a Jewish summer camp focused on nature experience and organic farm to table community – first as a farm apprentice and educator, then as assistant farm director. Wanting to continue growing her skills as a Jewish educator and professional, to move forward in her career, and to deepen her roots in community building and organizing, Rachel applied to the first cohort of the JOFEE Fellowship – an 11-month cohort-based certification and work-placement program bolstered by four weeks of intensive training throughout the year, with mentorship and peer support.

Rachel was the kind of young adult we had in mind in 2015 when we (representatives from Jim Joseph Foundation, Hazon, Pearlstone Center, Urban Adamah, and Wilderness Torah) created the JOFEE Fellowship in response to growing communal demand and an ever-larger crop of ambitious and talented early-career Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming & Environmental Education (JOFEE) professionals. Rachel had experience in secular outdoor and environmental education, a strong Jewish background, and a series of immersive and inspiring JOFEE experiences at Eden Village and also at Hazon’s Food Conference and Teva Seminar programs. As she wrote in her JOFEE Fellowship application, Rachel hoped to expand her JOFEE skillset and “to bring the beauty and power of Eden’s experiential education into a community more directly … My dream is to build community around growing food.”

Full-time work experience at her JOFEE Fellowship placement at Urban Adamah in Berkeley, CA allowed Rachel to do exactly that. She was hired to stay on as full-time staff after the Fellowship and now, two years after beginning the Fellowship in May 2016, Rachel has just launched the Summer 2018 cohort of Urban Adamah‘s own three-month Fellowship in her new role as Fellowship Director.

Rachel’s JOFEE story is one of many. At just one year out from graduation of the first cohort, we see impact on the JOFEE field, and in communities, organizations, and fellows themselves. Here’s what Rachel Binstock and other JOFEE Fellows say about their experience in the program and the influence it has on their Jewish learning, engagement, and career ambitions.

A Field Evolving and Scaling

When we created this Fellowship the goals were around recruitment, field-wide growth, complementary fundraising, and low attrition. Hazon has been effective in accomplishing each of these. Through the completion of two full cohorts, only one person has fully left the Jewish and environmental fields and more than 70 percent remain fully employed to implement JOFEE programming. JOFEE programming also is now sustained at 90 percent of the host institutions, and more than 95 percent of organizations plan to continue or expand their JOFEE programming post-Fellowship. Several organizations have subsequently hired these educators as full-time professionals. Critically, built into the Fellowship model is a combination of funding support both through the Foundation and through local funders who provide support for Fellows’ salaries and to supplement Fellowship program costs.

Moreover, after two completed cohorts and a third launched in March 2018, the programs impact is seen both in breadth and depth:

  • More than 50 aspiring educators have been trained in the Fellowship, led by Hazon’s hallmark Teva (nature) program; Camp Tawonga’s Jewish Outdoor Leadership Training (JOLT); Outward Bound; BEETLES: Better Environmental Education, Teaching, Learning, Expertise, and Sharing; and Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy.
  • Fellows have worked in 33 organizations around the country and have reached over 58,000 participants (and counting).
  • While 75 percent of the participants have been placed in JOFEE specific organizations (i.e. Hazon, Urban Adamah, Wilderness Torah) many have brought their learnings to more mainstream Jewish community organizations (Federations, JCCs, etc.).

In advance of the launch of the fourth cohort in late winter 2019 host applications are currently open (through August 15) and Fellow applications will open in mid-August – we are reflecting on takeaways through both internal learning and external evaluation with consulting firm Informing Change. Their findings continue to inform the growth and evolution of the JOFEE field. As we reflect on strengths of the current model and opportunities for continued growth and evolution, we also hope to provide useful application for the broader field of Jewish education and communal engagement. Here’s what we’re seeing:

  • Career pathway found when Fellows align their interests and passions with their work

In all cases, fellows had personal passions for nature, outdoor pursuits, sustainability, and food and/or farming. The fellowship enabled them to integrate these passions with Jewish practice and offered tools, mentorship, and experience for Fellows to effectively lead JOFEE experiences for youth and young children. Blending their passions with space to practice as educators led to significant professional growth and helped Fellows envision a career pathway.

  • The most successful programs create handson opportunities to connect Jewish tradition to the outdoors, food, farming, and environment education

Jewish tradition is rooted in a collective relationship to nature, food, and soil. JOFEE Fellows developed vibrant new programs such as Torah Theater: Ancestral Wisdom in the Wilderness (Becca Heisler, Wilderness Torah); Shofar Stalk: Wandering to Freedom (Miki Levran, Pearlstone Center); and Shrinking Our Waste: Solar-Powered Shrinky Dinks (Margot Sands, Ekar Farm), among others.

  • Role of mentorship

Similarly, support from mentors with extensive experience in JOFEE and Jewish communal engagement was important for Fellows. Mentors provided both programmatic expertise and professional support in navigating the complexities of nonprofit workplaces. Mentors also benefited from seeing themselves as part of the larger field of JOFEE and broadening their exposure to JOFEE work happening around the country through interactions with fellows and through mentor training and collaboration opportunities both online and in-person at the annual JOFEE Network Gathering.

  • Length of Fellows time in the host organizations

Fellows spend the vast majority of their time directly working in the organization over an 11 month period. This added critical staff capacity which was vital to expanding the programming and the reach of host organizations. Even in large institutions, Fellows created opportunities to reach new demographics through fresh JOFEE programming and content. Many host organizations were able to hire fellows to continue post-fellowship as full-time salaried staff by leveraging the programmatic impact of the fellowship year.

Informing Change’s quantitative findings support the Fellowship’s model detailed above, and demonstrate genuine growth among professionals in the field:

  • 100% of Fellows found the orientation and training valuable
  • 90% of Fellows and nearly 90% of supervisors report Fellows are well-prepared or extremely well-prepared for JOFEE engagement according to core Fellowship metrics
  • 88% of participants completing the Fellowship now describe themselves as JOFEE professionals (45% described themselves as JOFEE professionals beforehand)
  • 88% of Fellows found the mentorship experience valuable
  • 75% of supervisors felt that Hazon’s professional development opportunities for Fellows helped their organizations.

Opportunities and the Future

We are eager to see how this emerging crop of professionals will grow and evolve not only JOFEE but the work of Jewish education broadly as they continue to actualize their personal passions into meaningful professional work. At the same time, we see opportunities to increase the diversity of Fellowship participants (who are disproportionately white and female), to broaden funding for JOFEE professionals at the local level, and to create an effective “transition year” model for both fellows and host organizations that seek to continue their efforts in the field. Addressing these and other opportunities are part of JOFEE’s story as the field evolves to encompass more professionals and more programs engaging people in Jewish life and learning in deeply meaningful ways.

Judith Belasco is Executive Vice President and Chief Program Officer at Hazon.
Yoshi Silverstein is Director of the JOFEE Fellowship at Hazon.
Steven Green is Senior Director, Grants Management and Compliance for the Jim Joseph Foundation.