Unpacking the Zschool: Hidden Treasures and Transformative Moments

Headshot of Steven WindmuellerBy: Steven Windmueller, Ph.D., Interim Director of the Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management

HUC-JIR’s Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management is a “hidden treasure”! Founded in 1968 by Gerald Bubis in response to the Jewish communal world’s need for a cadre of trained Jewish professionals, the Zschool as it is now known, has trained more than 1,000 such leaders.

The “treasure” is bound up in its extraordinary alumni, who today serve the Jewish people, its agencies, organizations, and synagogues. The diversity of roles performed by these individuals reflects the uniqueness of the Jewish communal enterprise, itself. No other religious tradition has developed such a complex infrastructure of social service, political advocacy, educational and cultural, and religious institutions that distinctively defines our community! So, the core challenge: how best do we train professionals to serve this enterprise, while challenging themselves and their partners to improve upon this historic system of philanthropy, service, and learning?

Zschool graduates equipped with skill sets uniquely available through this program are positioned across the globe, operating in such diverse and creative settings as the JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) providing rescue and relief services to Jews; HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) responsible for the resettlement of refugees; federations and their international counterparts, meeting the educational, social, and cultural needs of fellow Jews; AIPAC and other public policy agencies in advancing the political interests of the Jewish community and the State of Israel. Many graduates are also in the forefront of leading and serving start-up, boutique organizations, rethinking both the content and delivery models of Jewish service and culture.

As rabbis, Jewish educators, and cantors, a growing number of the Zschool community of alumni carry with them the sacred task of meeting the Jewish religious, spiritual, and educational needs of our people. Even beyond the Jewish world, alumni of this program are profoundly making a difference in the lives of thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations.

What is distinctive about a Zschool graduate? As students, they were exposed to an extraordinary international faculty and studied with classmates from all sectors of the Jewish world. Together, they studied engaging questions to help them test and understand the operational foundation of the Jewish enterprise. Why is this the case? How can we do it better? What gives meaning and purpose to Jewish life and community?

Zschool’s historic mission has been to frame the operational underpinnings of how as a communal system this enterprise has evolved, its historical antecedents, and its contemporary challenges. Introducing the principles of best business and institutional practice, the curriculum frames the opportunity for our student practitioners to test out their ideas and models for engaging Jews and rethinking the organizing principles that frame the Jewish communal story. Zschool has become a laboratory of experimentation and encounter, permitting its participants to imagine and actually have the opportunity to test out their ideas both in the classroom and in the contemporary marketplace.

This is an innovative, unique learning model designed to match the interests and competencies of its degree candidates. The offerings available to graduate students incorporate an array of choices from an intensive certificate program to a complex set of dual degree offerings with other universities, including a series of longstanding joint degree opportunities with USC (University of Southern California) in such disciplines as Communications Management, Social Work, Public Administration, and Business Administration. For those who have already launched their Jewish professional careers, the Zschool provides an advanced track master’s degree in organizational leadership.

In many ways the critical measure for advancing Judaism and envisioning the Jewish future will be tied to the depth and quality of our leadership. Accordingly, no longer can such a fifty-year-old enterprise remain a “hidden treasure.” HUC’s Zschool should be seen as an essential educational investment in building and supporting the Jewish people and our collective story!

Learn more about the program offerings here.