Experiment in Congregational Education Receives Grant from UJA-Federation of New York to Help Synagogues Revitalize Their Congregational Schools

Friday, November 1, 2002

October 25, 2002/19 Cheshvan 5763

The Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE) has been awarded a two-year grant from the UJA-Federation of New York's Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal (CoJIR) for Phase One of a project to help synagogue leaders revitalize religious schools in the Greater New York Area, and ultimately throughout North America.

Called "Re-imagining Congregational Schools," the initiative creates an opportunity for teams of lay and professional leaders from five pilot congregations to make "virtual" visits to innovative educational programs across the country. Recognizing that no one new approach to religious school education will work in all congregations, the project will guide those teams through a process of understanding how to adapt those programs-or create new ones-to fit their own community's interests, goals and needs.

Knowing that customized consulting is costly and therefore often inaccessible to congregations, the new project will apply ECE's Internet-based distance learning and information management tools coupled with email, telephone, and in-person consultation by trained and experienced advisors.

CoJIR sees the religious school as a critical institution that has been neglected in many renewal efforts. The Chair of CoJIR, Marion Blumenthal, said "We hope our efforts with the ECE will be the beginning of creating exciting, vital and effective religious schools, not just in New York, but nationwide. The ECE's approach will ultimately reach a large number of congregations-varying in size and across all denominations-without dramatically increasing the size of the staff required. We see this as critical to making both an immediate and lasting impact on congregations in the large and diverse Greater New York area and, ultimately, across North America."

The Director of the ECE, Dr. Rob Weinberg, said, "We are excited about the opportunity to pioneer a practical process that will help synagogue leaders think in new ways about what innovations would work best for their individual communities. By combining hi-tech and high-touch tools and intelligence, we aim to make the process both responsive to individual congregational realities and cost-effective."

To lead this work in New York, the ECE has assembled a distinguished staff of professionals. Dr. Weinberg, a seasoned organizational effectiveness consultant, who has been involved with the ECE since its beginning in 1992, is the overall project leader. Professor Isa Aron, the Founding Director of ECE, will provide ongoing consultation and educational oversight for the development of online learning modules. Gregg Alpert, HUC's National Director of Distance Education, will direct the development of online resources. In addition, ECE expects to engage a leading academic and Jewish educator to guide the professional evaluation of the project. Weinberg expects to name a local Coordinator/Consultant in the Greater New York area in the coming weeks.

The Greater New York Area project will build upon the ECE's work with five Reform and Conservative congregations in the San Francisco Bay Area in conjunction with the local Bureau of Jewish Education and supported by grants from The Nathan Cummings Foundation, The Koret Foundation, and the Jewish Community Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties. The ECE's "Innovative Models of the Religious School" project is yielding invaluable experience with the prototype of ECE's first online, interactive learning experience built upon ECE's groundbreaking study of alternative models of congregational supplementary Jewish education.

About The Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE)

The Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE), a project of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles, is the nation's first synagogue transformation project. The ECE seeks to strengthen the role of synagogues as critical centers of Jewish life in North America by helping congregations to become Congregations of Learners and Self-Renewing Congregations. For more information visit the Experiment in Congregational Education online at www.eceonline.org.

About UJA-Federation of New York

The world's largest local philanthropy, UJA-Federation of New York helps strengthen community locally, nationally and internationally, reaching out to 4.5 million persons in New York, Israel, the former Soviet Union and 60 other countries. Funds raised sustain the activities of more than 100 health, social-service, educational, and community agencies, which feed the poor, help domestic violence victims, and provide job training, psychological counseling, senior housing, camping, and other recreational programs. The mission of UJA-Federation of New York is to care for those in need, strengthen Jewish peoplehood, and foster Jewish renaissance in New York, in Israel, and throughout the world.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu