March 22, 2007
BBI and UJ join up to forge a home for pluralistic Judaism in landmark merger
(Page 4 - Previous Page)A Blended Program
Not only the history, but the programs and logistics of the two institutions seem complementary.
There is already crossover among the two institutions' donors and lay leaders. While the UJ is busy all year and quiet in the summer, summer is busy season for BBI. The American Jewish University will now have facilities and faculty available for community conferences and retreats, as well as lifecycle events, year round.
UJ, an urban campus on 28 acres, has little space to grow, while BBI has ample open space and natural beauty on its Santa Susana Mountains campus.
And that campus suddenly finds itself closer to a large Jewish population, with communities flourishing in places like Thousand Oaks and Agoura.
Now, people in the Conejo Valley will have access to UJ programming 20 minutes away.
For the UJ, the boon is being able to market to a whole new population, and to optimize program offerings -- the same lecturer, same advertising, two locations. It will not only up revenues, but bring the product to more people.
For BBI, it means more Jews will come down Peppertree Lane.
BBI's college program, BCI, will offer college credit. UJ's "Making Marriage Work" seminar can tempt couples with a new-marrieds' weekend at Brandeis. Both organizations are confident that the two camps that now fall under American Jewish University -- Camp Alonim and Camp Ramah -- have different enough characters and target populations that they will not be competitive.
While UJ owns Ramah's 225 acres in Ojai, Ramah has its own board and fiscal independence. Camp Alonim, which has always operated with BBI as a parent organization, will continue to have an advisory board within the American Jewish University board. And though some BBI board members felt this move imperiled Alonim's integrity, camp director Jordanna Flores believes the structure will retain the camp's programmatic independence and open more resources.
Gross notes that only about 150 of the 2,800 acres (about 4.5 square miles) are currently utilized, so possibilities abound -- a home for the aging, fulfilling Bardin's vision of a prep school, perhaps an Orthodox summer camp and a center for the arts.
UJ chairperson Lowy envisions someday -- maybe in 25 years -- moving the undergraduate campus out to Simi Valley and building an institution that will attract thousands of students, rather than the 150 undergraduates UJ has today.
"From my point of view that is the real attraction -- that we can create the foundation for the next group of people to come along and do something we couldn't physically do," Lowy said.
That, perhaps is the greatest benefit of this union, leaders says: The unfettered imagining now possible, with UJ's new access to BBI's space and a heritage of programs, and Brandeis' replenished pool of funding and leadership.
"Every year we worry, 'am I going to make the budget, am I going to be able to fix up the facilities.' It's hard to operate with that level of tightening the belt all the time," Gross said. "We've been in that mode for a long time, and to be out of that and to be able to build and dream again, is liberating."