The Name Game, Jewish Institutional-Style

alphabet-acronym-e1371108421883by Julie Wiener

When the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) announced last week that it would end operations next month, the news signified the end of an era not just for the Jewish ed infrastructure, but for the great American Jewish acronymized organizational name.

Pronounced phonetically (“JEZna”), rather than with each letter articulated individually, the 30-year-old JESNA, like the more-than-60-year-old AIPAC followed in the tradition of abbreviated nomenclature used for sages like Rambam (RAbbi Moshe Ben Maimon) and Rashi (RAbbi SHlomo Itzhaki).

Just as names for children go in and out of fashion (from Jennifer to Sophie, Kevin to Aiden), Jewish institutional names also seem to follow certain trends.

Once referred to as an “alphabet soup,” in the past decade American Jewish institutional monikers have been shifting from the acronym and initial-heavy (think UJA, NCSY, JDC, ADL, AJC) into new realms. Indeed, just days before JESNA’s news, the Jewish Communal Service Association (JCSA) said it would become The JPro Network.

Some trends we’ve noticed:

  • Acronyms, including those in which English initials spell out something in Hebrew. Think CLAL (Center for Jewish Learning and Leadership) which means “community,” and LOMED (Learner Outcomes and Measurement for Effective Educational Design), which means “learn.” Message (for the non-Hebrew ones): We are complicated and do a lot of things. Message (for the Hebrew ones): Isn’t this cool that we sort-of spelled something in Hebrew? Status: Out.
  • “Agency,” “bureau,” “council,” “congress,” “committee,” “board” and anything else that evokes bureaucracy and government. Message: establishment; Status: Out.
  • “Project”: The Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (BJENY) a few years ago dropped its alphabet soup old-school name to re-brand itself The Jewish Education Project. Other new-ish “projects”: The David Project, The Jewish Journey Project and The Jewish Community Project. Message: Nimble, possibly temporary, focused, active. Status: In, but has reached saturation point.
  • “Lab”: Last week Behrman House and Israel’s Center for Educational Technology announced they were launching an ed-tech incubator called JLearningLabs. Meanwhile, the latest hotspot forum for Jewish educators is called JedLab. Which is not to be confused with Jewish Education Lab, a consulting firm. Message: Experimental, innovative, quasi-scientific and high-tech. Status: Up and coming.
  • The inspirational transliterated Hebrew word that is not an acronym, such as Hazon (vision), Bikkurim (first fruits), Adamah (land), Keshet (rainbow), Be’chol Lashon (in every voice), Matan (gift), Natan (also gift). Message: Authentic, in touch with our Hebrew roots. Status: Holding strong.
  • Capital J, followed by something else: JDub (which lost its funding), JVibe (also no more), JData, J Weekly (the newspaper formerly known as The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California). Message: “Jewish” is too long and has too much baggage. We’re hip and in the know. Status: We thought this was on its way out, but maybe JPro Network will revive it, especially since it uses…
  • Network: Schechter Day School Network, Jewish Funders Network, and a generally trendy term in Jewish communal parlance, where there’s been much talk about “network weaving.” Message: We collaborate and share, we know how to use all those Web 2.0 tools. Status: Popular, but not up there with “lab” or “project.”

courtesy The Jewish Week