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Name Helps Group to 'Venture' Forward With Jewish Learning

September 21, 2011 By:
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Young children participate in a Kehillah-sponsored holiday program.

ACAJE/JO -- what? The Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education/Jewish Outreach Partnership, known as ACAJE/JOP, is saying goodbye to its 65-character tongue-twister of a name. Two years after the nonprofit groups merged, board members have rebranded the organization as the Jewish Learning Venture.

Mathematically speaking, that's about one third of the length of the former name. But getting to this point wasn't as simple as you might think.

"We couldn't jump into a new name right away because we had to figure out who we were," said Rabbi Phil Warmflash, executive director of the group whose new name was launched this week.

The Jewish Outreach Partnership dates back to the founding of the Hebrew Sunday School Society in 1836. It became known in the 1990s as the Community Hebrew Schools, which provided classes to those unaffiliated with a synagogue. When those entities closed down, the agency became more like a consulting group for synagogues seeking to improve leadership and community programs. The JOP has also run a number of programs, such as "One Book, One Jewish Community."

For its part, ACAJE started as a support network of Gratz College 25 years ago with funding from Carol and Isaac Auerbach. Its goal was to help synagogues strengthen and professionalize educational offerings through conferences and the creation and dissemination of curricula. It also ran a branch of the PJ Library, which mails free Jewish-themed books to more than 3,000 families of young children in the area.

"The thinking was, if we put them together, we're taking a holistic view facing Jewish institutions and maybe we can do a better job with both," said David Smith, who served as president of the 21-member board during the merger.

The ACAJE/JOP name was always meant to be a temporary place saver, Smith said, but it took awhile to figure out how the combined agencies could refocus their mission -- a task complicated by the addition of the seven neighborhood Kehillot last fall. Up until then, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia had operated the network of synagogue and neighborhood programs, sponsoring community events and holiday programs.

Board members struggled to come up with a name to communicate the valuable education and outreach work they did without being too wordy, Smith said, so they sought help from consultants.

"I remember thinking to myself, 'I hope they change their name because it would be so hard to create a new logo,' " said Lisa Weinberger, creative director of the Center City-based Masters Group Design, which worked on the $15,000 project.

The long-winded ACAJE/JOP wasn't just difficult to say, it created a barrier because it didn't help people understand what the group did, Weinberger said.

"We want to get it out there that what we're about is Jewish learning, from formal to informal -- all aspects of Jewish learning -- with a real focus on families," Warmflash said. The word "venture" gives the idea of taking something that's come before and putting it into a new framework, he said. "Venture is a kind of risk," he went on. "If you venture capital, you hope to make money but you're not sure. You do your research and you gather data and you venture forward. As a community, we're venturing forward together."

The graphic representation was also designed to be unconventional. Depending on how you look at it, you might see a "V" or an "L" or even a Hebrew character. Others might see a flame, which goes along with the idea that the agency "flames the desire for Jews to be involved in the learning process," Weinberger said.

Aside from being easier to say, Smith said he hopes the new brand will solidify the group's merged synergy and make them a more visible resource. Ironically, ACAJE's original work "promoting and enhancing Jewish institutions" has greater visibility in cities like San Francisco and St. Louis that have adopted its Nurturing Excellence in Synagogue Schools, or NESS program, said Smith, who chairs a Center City law firm.

Jonathan Woocher, chief ideas officer at the New York-based Jewish Education Services of North America, said other cities look up to the now-combined Philadelphia agency as a "uniquely powerful" pioneer in pushing synagogues to think differently about how they do Jewish education.

In addition to helping existing synagogue members find meaningful experiences, Warmflash said he wants to build increasingly efficient, coordinated efforts to reach the unaffiliated.

Warmflash estimated that some 1,500 families participate in their programs each year. Ultimately, he said, these connections are designed to benefit existing institutions by introducing Jewish families to what they have to offer. "We need to have important community conversations -- and strategically because no one has time to have them twice."

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