The Future of CJE

Amian Kelemer, Center for Jewish Education’s (CJE) Director and Nate Braverman, CJE Board Chair, Talk About Organization’s Future

Last spring, when Larry Ziffer announced his retirement, the Macks Center for Jewish Education took up an extensive national search for a new head. What they found was the perfect fit in Amian Kelemer.

Amian, who has spent close to a quarter century at CJE, began her career as a teacher for their Gesher La Torah program, an after-school Jewish educational program for children with severe learning differences. Since then, she says, “I’ve think I’ve held every job there is at the organization.”

Nate Braverman, chair of the board of CJE, was involved in the search. Calling Amian a natural choice for the position, he credits her with developing and implementing programs and forging partnerships that promote Jewish educational engagement, Israel education and advocacy and professional development of our educators.

“We simply could not pass on the opportunity to keep such a valuable asset working for our community," he says.

The Board, comprised of a diverse group of individuals representing all denominations and many professions, overwhelmingly approved the decision.

Nate, a Baltimore native, retired district court judge and Beth Am congregant, joined Amian to talk about CJE and how its long-term goals.

Can you point to what you see as some of your recent successes you want to build upon?

Amian: In addition to serving educators in day schools, congregational schools and early childhood education, we are trying to reach audiences who don't know that the Jewish community has anything to offer them. That’s where our connector program comes in. Today, we have 13 Community Connectors, many of whom are living in communities that traditionally weren’t Jewish, like downtown or along the I-83 corridor. They are engaging young Jewish families in their neighborhood, through Jewish and non-Jewish-themed programs.

Nate: These connectors are bringing together Jewish families and encouraging them to get together over Jewish experiences they may not be getting elsewhere.

What’s surprised you about the program?

Amian: Originally, we knew the programs would impact those families being connected, but we loved that the connectors were really increasing their involvement in the community.

Nate: We’ve actually seen their increased involvement in the Jewish community. Some have joined our CJE board, other connectors are becoming involved with IMPACT and the Young Leadership Council. Many are now considering sending their children to Jewish preschools and one family even enrolled her child in Jewish day school.

I understand the connector program is becoming a model for other Jewish organizations.

Amian: Today, we are training other Jewish organizations on how to build their own connector program. We are working with Associated organizations, such as Charm City Tribe, Pearlstone Center and the Downtown Baltimore JCC (DBJCC). We are also working with Krieger Schechter Day School, Beth Tfiloh [Dahan Community Day School], Temple Oheb Shalom and Kol HaLev.

We’re also a model for national communities. We have become involved in communities of practice with our peers around the country, sharing our program design and information we’ve developed.

Why do these efforts matter?

Amian: Jewish education is an insurance policy for a healthy Jewish community.

What’s new on the CJE agenda?

Nate: We are expanding our PJ Library pop-ups around the community, offering Jewish experiences in non-traditional venues. We are creating new events so families in Timonium, downtown and elsewhere can participate in Jewish experiences in places like community bookstores or retailers such as Trader Joes and Wegmans.

This year, we also revamped our Ahava Baby program gift bag – filling a box with items such as a beautifully framed blessing for children and a stuffed Shabbat set for the kids to play with. Families will also receive a PJ Library blanket and a onesie designed by The Associated. We want every family to feel they are part of the Jewish community.

CJE also will continue to enjoy partnerships with traditional institutions and will add new programs for people interested in seeking intellectual challenges. In particular, our new Partners Program is informal weekly learning for leaders of our community who are interested in expanding their Jewish knowledge and interested in learning more. They will learn in a convenient location. It’s an opportunity for our leaders to enhance their knowledge of our texts and traditions around a host of topics that they can select.

You also focus on Israel education.

Amian: We’re really excited to bring more Israel education to the community. We are in conversations to partner with 4Front, the new teen initiative housed at the JCC, as well as local independent schools and national organizations like Act-il.com, an online community for Israel.

One of 4Front's signature programs is the social entrepreneurship fellowship, and as part of that the teens will travel to Israel. We are working with Rabbi Dena Shaffer to provide the teens with a pre-trip Jewish educational curriculum, an Israeli 101 that talks about the challenges facing that country, and gives them a sense of the lay of the land, among other items.

We hope to incorporate this pre-trip curriculum before every Associated mission to help individuals understand what’s really going on in Israel.

Nate: In addition, CJE just held its first Board mission to Israel where we met with Israeli educators. Our Board visited schools and got a ground level view of trends in Jewish education and culture to better inform us and provide ideas that we can incorporate into our programming here.

Anything else?

Amian: We want all Jewish individuals – from individuals with disabilities to families living outside our traditional zip codes to students in Jewish classroom settings– to have meaningful Jewish experiences and be inspired by our rich cultural history.

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