East Bay federation announces re-visioning plans

At the annual meeting of the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, CEO James Brandt outlined the body’s new direction, the result of a yearlong process of community meetings and introspection.

“We began this year knowing the federation had to change,” he said at the June 20 gathering at Oakland’s Temple Sinai. “This entire year has been a time of reflecting, strategizing and re-visioning.”

Over the coming months, as part of this new direction, the federation plans to convene the leadership of East Bay synagogues, agencies and partner organizations to develop community-wide strategic initiatives; deepen its new partnership with Birthright Israel, including sponsoring two East Bay Birthright buses; and beef up its professional and leadership development programs, among other projects.

Among the most significant operational changes under the federation’s new strategic vision is the consolidation of the Center for Jewish Living and Learning and the agency’s planning department into a single entity.

Rabbi James Brandt speaks at the Jewish Federation of the East Bay’s annual meeting June 20.

The CJLL has long been the federation’s Jewish education arm, with programming for children, teens and adults. Brandt pointed out that most CJLL programs will continue under the auspices of the new department, called the Department for Community Impact.

“Jewish education has been and will continue to be a focus of the federation. It continues to be foundational for Jewish communal life,” Brandt told j. this week. “At a time of change, it’s natural for people to be concerned, but this move [takes] the capacities we have and maximizes the impact on the community.”

That means CJLL programs such as the annual Early Childhood Jewish Educators Conference, the Early Childhood Educators Council (which meets monthly), federation-funded special education services and professional development opportunities for Jewish educators all will remain intact, Brandt said.

The PJ Library will receive expanded federation funding, Brandt added, as will community programs that operated under the CJLL umbrella, notably the 17-year-old East Bay International  Jewish Film Festival.

Discontinued will be the Contra Costa Jewish Book and Arts Festival (two years shy of its 25th anniversary) and Let’s Go: Israel (a summer trip for teens that was a staple for more than 20 years). The book and arts festival was held at the Contra Costa JCC, which shut down last winter.

“When Let’s Go started there were few opportunities for Israel travel,” Brandt said. “Over the years, many others have begun offering teen Israel trips. So rather than competing with programs like BBYO, NFTY, USY and Young Judaea, we could do a better job of encouraging Israel travel by working with families to help them decide which is the best program for their child.”

The federation will continue to provide financial aid for Israel travel.

Also, as reported in j. last month, the federation has transferred operation of Midrasha teen retreats to Midrasha programs in the Berkeley, Oakland, Contra Costa and the Tri-Valley areas.

“We realized it made a lot more sense for the Midrashas themselves to handle all their programming in a more holistic, organic sense, to integrate both the formal and informal educational parts of their programs” Brandt said.

CJLL director Oren Massey, who is out of a job at the end of this week, his position having been eliminated, told j. that he departs “with mixed emotions. We managed to truly enhance and stabilize [CJLL] programs and enrich relations with community institutions.” No other personnel changes have been announced.

In remarks to attendees at the annual meeting, Joe Felson, president of the Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay, gave a detailed report on key foundation grants over the year, including $200,000 in aid to college students, camperships and youth trips to Israel.

Claudia Felson, the federation president, noted that the organization expects to take in $2.6 million for the just-concluding 2011-2012 annual campaign. She also mentioned that a total of approximately $158,000 in reimbursements were issued to 62 families who had paid preschool tuition to the Contra Costa JCC before it shut down.

At the annual meeting, four community leaders were honored with awards: Herb Friedman (Shomrei Ha’Kabalah award for his work on behalf of Jewish education), Steve Zatkin (Campaign Leadership award for his fundraising efforts as campaign chair), Barry Cohn (Endowment Achievement award for his role in helping get the new Magnes museum built in Berkeley) and Yossi Fendel (Lesser Young Leadership award for his work with the Berkeley Midrasha).

A slate of new federation and foundation officers and directors was also approved by voice vote.