February 10, 2009 | 8:04 pm
Posted by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
CAJE, the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, will close its doors at the end of this month, a victim of the economic downturn that is reshaping Jewish organizational life.
CAJE attracted thousands of educators every year to its conference, where Jewish educators, primarily from preschools and supplemental (aka religious, Sunday, Hebrew, or congregational) schools, networked and schmoozed and shared ideas about how to make Jewish education better.
But with schools and synagogues unable to pay for its teachers to attend the conference, and with donors down, in January CAJE canceled its 34th annual conference. Today, the group announced that with $500,000 still owed on past conferences, the organization is shutting down. It launched a legacy campaign to clean up the debt and close the chapter with dignity.
From the CAJE Homepage:
We very much regret to inform you that CAJE will close its doors at the end of February. This may be a shocking statement, but it is part and parcel of today’s excruciatingly difficult economic environment. The mind-boggling part for CAJE is that we have just held one of our most successful conferences. CAJE 33 was well attended and inspiring. But even after accounting for the revenue from CAJE 33, the combination of past debt and the fragile economy forced us to take the unprecedented and painful step of cancelling CAJE 34, then letting most of our staff go and preparing to close our doors.
Aside from its conference, CAJE offered advocacy and resources for Jewish educators and schools.
The first CAJE conference – then the “a” stood for “alternatives,” not “advancement” – in 1976 was put together by Jewish students who wanted something other than the ruler-wielding rabbi or school marm telling kids how to be Jewish. 350 educators gathered at Brown University in Rhode Island that year with an anti-establishment spirit.
Prior to the 1976 conference, no Jewish conference had managed to gather such a diverse group of American Jews—teachers, principals, lay leaders, college students, professors, camp counselors, part-timers, Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Hasid, Yiddishist, secularist, humanist, Zionist—even Jews with multiple personalities. The ages of the participants at the first conference ranged from 13 to 70!
By year three 1000 people participated, and when times caught up and CAJE was a full-fledged organization and no longer alternative, CAJE changed its middle name to “Advancement” in 1987 (it kept Alternative for the conferences). At its heights, CAJE attracted 2,500 people to its conferences.
CAJE was there for the Soviet Jewry movement, developed partnerships around the world and in Israel, credits itself with spawning similar conferences like Limmud, and updated itself with a robust website and blog.
But the hits have been hard lately, and CAJE faced reality. Although its 33rd annual conference in Vermont last August was a success, it wasn’t enough to save CAJE. CAJE is working with Jewish Educational Services of North America (JESNA) to preserve and disseminate its materials, explore the possibilty of a conference, and handle member needs, especially Early Childhood educators.
But there are many, many Jewish educators who will miss the camaraderie, professional development and spirit they could only get at CAJE conference.
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