Big news this past week. A new collaborative umbrella organization for Jewish Day Schools has been created that will bring five existing organizations together under one united banner. This new entity will include the Day Schools of Reform Judaism (PARDES), The Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), RAVSAK (The Jewish Community Day School Network), the Schechter Day School Network (Schechter) and the Yeshiva University School Partnership (YUSP). In short, for the first time, organizations affiliated with the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jewish movements, as well as those representing nondenominational Jews, are coming together to accomplish a single goal: improving and strengthening Jewish day school education — for every Jewish child regardless of his or her background or label du jour.
The news release stated the rationale: “The decision … to move in this direction is an affirmation of the centrality of day schools in Jewish life and … reflects the conviction … that we can all benefit from the knowledge, expertise and ideas of others, even if we express our Jewishness differently. As one organization, we can unify to strengthen … the core of the Jewish educational enterprise.”
The impetus for this high-level collaboration was creating a more effective network of actors committed to strengthening Jewish day schools — to the benefit of day school students everywhere and the Jewish community as a whole.
Our own local community has a myriad of examples of such thinking, wherein by coming together, we accomplish more. The Joint Jewish Education Program (JJEP) brings together families from Congregations Beth Shalom and Rodef Shalom for a single, shared educational endeavor; Agewell Pittsburgh, a joint collaboration between the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Association on Aging and the Jewish Family & Children’s Service, makes it easier (and more efficient) for our community’s seniors to connect to the vital services they need to continue living independently and with dignity.
And still another courageous decision that bespeaks a focus on the greater good is the recent decision by the board of the Agency for Jewish Learning to dissolve the AJL and to divide its programming between the JCC and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. Today, Jewish Residential Services’ administration and bookkeeping is handled by JF&CS, a much larger agency with a larger financial infrastructure; and the Jewish Community Foundation of the Federation holds and manages assets for most of the Jewish agencies and synagogues in town. There are still other examples to cite and still more that will surely be created in days to come.
Of course, collaboration for collaboration’s sake is silly; yet, so is a decision to perpetuate competition where there is no longer a need — or even the interest — in preserving a rivalrous stance between organizations, congregations and agencies.
Quite often the goals between erstwhile competitors are so similar that failing to explore these opportunities is tantamount to dooming ourselves to perpetuating the patterns of yesteryear when our core responsibility is to prepare for tomorrow.
For these five national Jewish day school agencies to join forces to better achieve their shared mission is exciting, encouraging and instructive. As we look within our own community, we cannot help but wonder where the next opportunity for true collaboration might come from.
Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. And, inevitably, we know we will likely see some collaborations, consolidations and mergers as a result of shrinking budgets or participation or both. Far better would be for us to anticipate the nature of our times, rather than waiting for the inevitable 11th hour.
To this end, we challenge the community to ask the same types of questions as surely went into the announcement from the day school world. How can we have the deepest impact on the lives of our people? What more can we do in Pittsburgh to benefit most of our youth, their families, our mutually shared objective of strengthening the experience of being Jewish in the 21st century? And who else should we be speaking to?
Of this we are sure: We are all in this together. And competition is no longer the way forward.
Jeff Finkelstein is president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and Rabbi Aaron Bisno is the spiritual leader of Rodef Shalom Congregation.