Changes afoot for East Bay federation

As part of a strategic planning process, the Jewish Federation of the East Bay is scaling back some of its cultural activity.

The Contra Costa Jewish Book and Arts Festival will be discontinued, but other programs run by the federation’s Center for Jewish Living and Learning — which will itself undergo several changes under the strategic plan — will continue, and some will expand.

The 17-year-old East Bay Inter-national Film Festival, for example, will go on. But the book and arts festival will not. A fixture in the East Bay for 23 years, it was held at the Contra Costa JCC, which shut down last winter.

 “Given the cultural and economic realities, we asked ourselves how federation can be most effective, and how we complete our mission,” federation CEO Rabbi James Brandt told j. this week. “Our mission to connect our community to the wider Jewish world and make an impact has not changed. What changed is how we accomplish that mission.”

Rabbi James Brandt

Brandt said one positive change is that the CJLL will expand the East Bay reach of the PJ Library, a national nonprofit that provides Jewish children’s literature and music to families.

“It’s one of our signature funding initiatives for donors,” he said. “We’re going to continue and strengthen PJ Library programming, focusing on reaching out to families, bringing them into the community and engaging them in schools and centers.”

Another change in store is that the CJLL will no longer run retreats for Midrasha, as it had for many years, even though federation will continue to fund that East Bay program for teens, Brandt said.

Brandt noted the federation would train Midrasha staffers on how to run those retreats themselves.

Brandt reported that the federation held a series of town halls in recent months, at which federation donors, East Bay Jewish agencies, synagogues and other institutions weighed in on community priorities. Input from those meetings played a role in the federation’s strategic planning decisions.

“We didn’t want this to just be an internal process,” he said. “We wanted it to be a community process.”

Additional moves will be announced following the federation board’s mid-June meeting.

Brandt acknowledged that Jewish communal life has undergone striking changes in recent years, and that the federation would have to adapt if it is to continue thriving.

“The purpose of the [strategic] plan is to look at how federation could reposition itself,” he said, “to respond to all the forces at play in today’s Jewish community and the greater Jewish world.”