The JOFEE Report & the Challenge of Asset Allocation

Dear All,

What subsequently has become the JOFEE Report began with the Jim Joseph Foundation. They’re one of the largest Jewish foundations, they’re committed to renewing Jewish life, and they’re intensely data driven. (If you go to the “Evaluation & Research” section of their website, you’ll get a sense of the work they’ve been doing and the range and depth of it.) They were seeing more and more instances, and getting more and more requests, for funding in relationship to Jewish outdoor programming, garden, and farm programs. FJC, funded by them, launched new specialty camps in this space. And at a certain point, in a very JJF way, they rounded up a group of other funders to work with them and us and what turned out to be two independent research houses to try to answer some basic questions about this space. What’s going on? Is it growing, as it seems to be? If so, why? What impact is it having, if at all? And what could or should we be doing

Before introducing the JOFEE report, and some of the key issues that arise from it, I want first to say a few words about research and evaluation, and about the asset allocation challenge in Jewish life.

When I was founding Hazon, in early 2000, I went to see Mark Jacobs, who was then the (long-standing, ie way more experienced than me) Executive Director of COEJL, and who is now the Chair of Urban Adamah. I was explaining about Hazon and our forthcoming Cross-USA Jewish Environmental Bike Ride – the event that launched Hazon – and I asked him if he had any advice for me. “Yes,” he said, “you should pay attention to evaluation, and plan it well in advance.” I had literally no clue what he was talking about. It took me probably half a decade to start to understand what he had said to me that day, and how right he was.

Then in 2007, Michael Hill at the Dorot Foundation asked me what was Hazon’s theory of change. I said, “what’s a theory of change?” That took me a year or two.

Then more recently, I heard someone talking about a logic model. “What’s a logic model?” I said. Skip to January of this year, and one of the significant highlights of a Hazon staff gathering at the Leichtag Ranch was a presentation that Sarah Kornhauser did of the logic model for our work in Colorado.

I share this with you because I’ve been on my own journey in relation to data and evaluation. I founded Hazon – as many of the founders of young non-profits do – with a classic combination of idealism and frustration: frustration, that the Jewish community wasn’t (in my view) sufficiently utilizing outdoor adventure to renew Jewish life, and wasn’t doing enough to focus on issues of sustainability. Idealism, because I felt I could do something about that.

That same sense of idealism and frustration is what spurred Idit Klein to found Keshet, or Amichai Lau-Lavie to found Storahtelling and Lab/Shul. It’s what spurred Rabbi Elie Kaunfer to found Hadar, David Cycgielman to found Moishe House, and Aaron Bisman to found JDub – z”l.  And in what we’re now calling the JOFEE space, it’s what spurred Adam Berman to found Adamah and Urban Adamah; Zelig Golden and Julie Wolk to found Wilderness Torah; Yoni and Viv Stadlin to found Eden Village; Nati Passow and Simcha Schwartz to found Jewish Farm School; David Fox to found the Amir Project; Evonne Marzouk to found Canfei Nesharim;  and Jakir Manela to found Kayam at Pearlstone – and many many more.

It turns out that, in almost every case, our idealism was well-placed. The success of these organizations is attributable to the fact that so many others shared the founders’ interests, so that when programs opened their doors, and new opportunities arose to express Jewishness in the 21st century, participants showed up. So far so good.

But the Jewish community right now faces an enormous challenge in relation to asset allocation. The new models and programs, though they’re growing, haven’t sufficiently scaled. They’re tiny in relation to the challenges we face, tiny in relation to the opportunities that exist, and – in almost every single instance – they have no reserves, no endowment, no savings, and an insufficiently broad funding base. Conversely, many of the institutions in American Jewish life that do have a proper balance sheet – buildings, endowment, restricted assets, legacy giving programs – are facing a crisis of vision and mission: their participants are aging and their donor base is shrinking.

That’s what I mean by an asset allocation problem: because in a rational world we’d find ways to partner young organizations and legacy organizations in a way that strengthened both. We’d merge young partnership minyanim with local shuls that have buildings and assets. We’d find a way to put Mechon Hadar and JTS together, to the enrichment of both. We’d endow Keshet with the resources of ADL, or Eden Village with the resources of the 92nd St Y. When the Pearlstone Jewish Retreat Center made Jakir Manela their Executive Director, and they closed down the Kayam program as a separate standalone program, that was partly what they were doing, and I think immensely successfully so – allying the resources of Pearlstone and to some extent the Associated with Jakir’s vision and programs.

What’s happening at Pearlstone, though, is the exception. The challenge is immense. People who know me, know that I’m fairly idealistic. In calling this organization “hazon” – Hebrew for vision – I was choosing to weave into the essence of who we are this sense that Jewish life is renewed by vision, and that vision and a sense of hope is critical to all that we do. And yet I’m feeling challenged at the moment: not at the people and programs I see on a daily basis – overwhelmingly amazing and inspirational – but at our collective ability to make rational asset allocation decisions. As a wider Jewish community we’re not doing this at all well, and for reasons that are all too human and understandable – because legacy institutions have no remit to take themselves out of business, because change is hard, and because it’s always easier to do good asset allocation in a growing space than in a shrinking one.

All this is part of the wider context of the JOFEE Report – and the JOFEE Report, and the JOFEE space, is just a small part of both the challenge and the opportunity we now face. And this is why evaluation and research is so vital, and why the JOFEE Report might – depending on what happens next – turn out to be a significant moment within the 21st century evolution of American Jewish life.

So, briefly:

  • JOFEE stands for Jewish Outdoor, Food, & Environmental Education
  • we just published the report: you can see it here
  • and we did a standalone CO case-study
  • and a NY case-study

And, since we formally launched it last week:

  • here’s a piece on eJP by Jon Marker (of JJF) and me, to some extent summarizing and contextualizing it;
  • here’s the JNS news story, with the great title – theirs, not ours – “After Pew pessimism, is JOFEE the new acronym for the Jewish future?”
  • here’s the news story in the Jewish Week
  • here’s the piece in the Forward

And here is the Cliff’s Notes version:

  • the JOFEE space has grown strongly since 2000
  • it’s having a big impact on Jewish identity – and on food choices and commitment to sustainability
  • it’s having a big impact – actually a fairly extraordinary impact – on leadership, with an incredibly high proportion of over 600 respondents reporting that a/ they’d gone on to found, lead or launch something themselves and b/ their JOFEE experience(s) had caused them to do so;
  • the modal groups are 20-somethings and 30-somethings, though many programs are happily multi-generational;
  • a significant number of people being impacted by these programs are people who to some extent grew up within the Jewish community, became alienated from Jewish life, and came back into Jewish life through JOFEE programs;
  • this is an extremely collaborative space, with strong relationships amongst leaders and programs;
  • people often do several JOFEE programs; and by and large the more you do, the more impactful they are;

And, in the other side of the picture:

  • organizational instability;
  • a need for almost everything connected with capacity-building – professional development; management skills; fundraising; business planning; HR; marketing & communications; and, underneath all of this, a chronic lack of sufficient funding.

So, if you read this far, I’m trusting that all this is genuinely of interest to you. So what next?

  • There’ll be presentations on the JOFEE Report in NY (April 2nd), Bay Area (April 29th) and Denver (date tbd).If you’d like more info, email Liz Traison;
  • If you’re running a Jewish institution, of any sort, you should be thinking about how to further utilize Jewish food education, Jewish outdoor education, and/or Jewish environmental education, in what you do;
  • If you want to participate in multi-day JOFEE programs, go to and click on the “hazon programs” tab, and the “other programs” tab (the latter a comprehensive list of immersive JOFEE programs);
  • If you’re working in the JOFEE field, or would like to – be in touch with us. By later in the year, and certainly by next year, we’d like to be doing more to support organizational and professional development in the space.

Most of all: if you’re a significant funder – a foundation, a federation, or simply a person or a family who write out significant checks – I urge you to think about increasing your funding to JOFEE programs and organizations, to give general operating support rather than program support, and to encourage and enable organizations to build reserves. This is parched ground, and the organizations doing this work – and certainly Hazon – are significantly under-resourced.

Finally: a huge, huge thank you to the Jim Joseph Foundation, UJA-Federation of New York, Rose Community Foundation, the Leichtag Foundation, the Schusterman Family Foundation, and The Morningstar Foundation for funding this study, and to the Advisory Board – including Adam Berman and Nili Simhai – that pitched in very effectively along the way. Thank you to all the organizations who distributed the study and the more than 800 people who filled it out (nearly three times the number the researchers expected). Thank you to Informing Change and the Improve Group, who did the work. And – personally – a particularly huge thank you to Judith Belasco, Anna Hanau, Jon Marker, Josh Miller, and Liz Traison, who collectively led the charge at Hazon and JJF.

With warm best wishes,

PS  If you sign up for any of Hazon’s multi-day JOFEE programs before March 31st and type in “JOFEE” that will get you $60 off registration. That includes the Golden Gate, NY, and Israel Rides; Adamah Farm Vacations are happening in July and August at Isabella Freedman; the Adamah Fellowship – summer and fall – and the 2014 Fall Teva season; and our Israel Sustainable Food Tour. You’re especially invited to this year’s Teva Seminar, which will be focused on JOFEE for educators and leaders in the field.