Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education Experiences Show Increased Potential for Jewish Engagement

National Study Offers Insights on Participants, Programs, and Professionals

NEW YORK, NY — Experiences that blend Jewish learning with the outdoors, food, and environment are attracting a growing number of diverse Jews to meaningful and inspiring Jewish life, reports the first-ever national survey on Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education (JOFEE) —Seeds of Opportunity: A National Study of Immersive Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education (JOFEE). The report, released today by a group of six major funders and Hazon, examines the history, programs, professionals, and participants that comprise JOFEE experiences. Leaders of JOFEE are eager to share the key findings and continue a conversation about its potential for growth and for Jewish engagement.

“For the last decade, a growing number of young Jewish people have been connecting Jewish tradition, on the one hand, with food, the environment and the outdoors, on the other,” said Nigel Savage, president of Hazon. “What the study makes clear is that these programs are having an enormously significant impact – on people’s individual identity and Jewish commitment; on leadership development; and, in relation to food and the environment. JOFEE programs are strengthening Jewish life, and are having a significant viral impact as last year’s program participants become next year’s program founders.”

The report’s funders—Jim Joseph Foundation, Leichtag Foundation, The Morningstar Foundation, Rose Community Foundation, Schusterman Family Foundation and UJA-Federation of New York—funded the study to learn more about the emerging field and the potential to create and support more Jewish learning experiences. Examples of the vast array of JOFEE experiences include Jewish farming programs, wilderness celebrations of Jewish holidays, multi-day Jewish bike rides, and a sustainable food tour of Israel. The report only examined immersive experiences, which are considered to last four days or longer.

Key findings of the study include:

  • More than 2,400 people participated in immersive JOFEE experiences in 2012. JOFEE has also had a more extensive reach through additional non-immersive and local experiences.
  • Immersive JOFEE participants are of all ages and backgrounds, but the greatest representation was among 18 to 39-year olds.
  • Patterns in immersive JOFEE participation (episodic and recurring) reflect the patterns and culture of how today’s youth, young adults and Jews engage with community and one another.
  • JOFEE experiences are having a positive influence on participants’ Jewish attitudes and behaviors and are inspiring them to make outdoor, food, and/or environmental-related changes in their life, work and community.
  • The more and longer immersive JOFEE experiences participants have, the more they are affected, both in their Jewish lives and in their connection to the outdoors, food and environmental issues.

“For many people, especially young adults, JOFEE offers an attractive entry point and an ongoing path to Jewish engagement,” says Al Levitt, president of the Jim Joseph Foundation. “We always look for unique ways to create and support Jewish life and learning opportunities—and the outcomes of JOFEE programs are very promising.”

One striking finding was that 63 percent of study respondents noted that throughout their lives they may have felt disconnected with Jewish life; 32 percent of those individuals have now found ways to reconnect to Jewish life through JOFEE experiences. People choose to participate in immersive JOFEE experiences to connect their interest in the outdoors, food, and environment with Judaism, and to learn more about both areas. Beyond the program content, many people come to JOFEE to be in a community of like-minded people—and often to reconnect with Jewish life or communities.

“Our experience with young adults has shown that they are eager to create and participate in meaningful Jewish experiences that are relevant to themselves and their peers, and JOFEE programs are no exception,” said Lynn Schusterman, Chair of the Schusterman Family Foundation. “This report provides valuable insight into the opportunities available to our community to help this growing field engage more teens and young adults in Jewish life.”

Of particular importance to funders and other key stakeholders are the positive outcomes JOFEE experiences have on Jewish engagement, identity, and connection. A significant majority of survey respondents note that JOFEE experiences increased their sense of hope for the Jewish people and are encouraged by a more open-minded and inclusive Jewish community. Critically, once people choose to participate in a JOFEE program, there often is a “ripple effect” for Jewish communal life—87 percent of participants in immersive JOFEE programs say they have helped to organize a Jewish communal event or gathering, with two-thirds of those saying that their JOFEE experience influenced this.

Sarene Shanus, Chair of the Jewish Community Development task force of CoJIR, (the Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal) at UJA Federation of New York, noted, “The Report provides important data on both the positive short and longer term impacts of these experiences on program participants. UJA-Federation of New York was an early adapter of the JOFEE mission and a proud funder of many pilots that today anchor the marketplace. We hope that this study will catalyze both organizations and supporters to consider the critical next steps in building and securing this field.”

JOFEE programs have the greatest influence on Jewish attitudes and behaviors for participants who are younger, have more limited Jewish backgrounds, and have more JOFEE experiences. And the more engagement these individuals have with JOFEE programming, the more Jewish-related changes they experience in life, work and community.

“In Colorado we have seen the power of JOFEE experiences to connect Jewish people at both the grassroots and organization levels,” says Lisa Farber Miller, senior program officer of Rose Community Foundation. “Because JOFEE programs capitalize on a strong interest in food and the outdoors that exists independent of Jewish life, they are natural ways to engage the next generation.”

One survey respondent noted, “[The programs] have been incredibly important in allowing me to pursue my interest in the environment and makes Judaism more relevant in my life. Building a community around these issues has brought together like-minded people who range in Jewish practice and belief to create a much more diverse and interesting Jewish community.”

The survey delves deeply into the network of professionals that comprise JOFEE programs and organizations. It offers future considerations for funders and practitioners. Continued professionalization of the field, increased organization efficiency and sustainability, and continued program quality are all key issues raised and areas to continue to explore.

“The study results significantly align with our learnings from a series of focus groups conducted in the North Coastal region of San Diego,” says Charlene Seidle, executive vice-president of the Leichtag Foundation.” People care about their health, the environment and social justice as well as non-traditional and meaningful ways to connect with other Jews and the community. This year our foundation has launched the Jewish Food Justice Fellowship which is a next step in the professional development for alumni of other JOFEE programs, and as we embark upon the development of Southern California’s first Jewish Community Farm, this report and its findings will be extremely valuable.

Susie and Michael Gelman, directors of The Morningstar Foundation, commented, “We believe that this study helps to demonstrate the important impact that JOFEE experiences have on many participants. We sincerely hope that the research is a useful resource that will guide the development, creation, and integration of JOFEE program elements throughout the Jewish community.”

“JOFEE is growing and the network of people we engage is expanding,” adds Savage. “We now have tangible information about the participants, professionals, programming, and the outcomes of our efforts, and look forward to a conversation about the best next steps. We want to collaborate with communities, funders and leaders to create more JOFEE experiences; to offer more Jewish people a chance to opt-in to Jewish life; and to enable the community, as a community, to make a difference in the world

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The study, written by Informing Change, interviewed approximately 40 stakeholders, including JOFEE program directors and educators, rabbis, funders, entrepreneurs, community organizers, thought leaders and Jewish education leaders. Two focus groups in Colorado and four focus groups in New York garnered additional qualitative data, while a survey of 800 individuals over the age of 18 who had participated in immersive JOFEE programs provided quantitative data. In addition, 41 immersive JOFEE programs— including Adamah, Eden Village Camp, Hazon, Jewish Farm School, Teva, Urban Adamah and Wilderness Torah—completed a review form of their program, including history of participation and staffing, budget and a program description.

Contact:
Jason Edelstein, 510.239.1102
Nigel Savage, nigel@hazon.org, 917.742.9979

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