Jennie Gates Beckman, who recently joined the Jewish Federation of Omaha as Director of Community Engagement and Education, is tasked with enhancing community engagement, promoting lifelong Jewish learning, providing a connection to Israel and supporting the synagogues in their mission. One of the most exciting areas for growth is engaging families with young children. Two programs currently supported by JFO are Shalom Baby and PJ Library. “Shalom Baby currently delivers a gift basket to welcome newborn or newly adopted children into our community,” Jennie explained. “We are expanding the program to add gatherings for new parents featuring themes related to Jewish holidays and values, knowing that this is also a great way for young families to meet one another.” PJ Library, a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, sends Jewish children’s books to families across the world every month, with no cost to the families. “We know that something magical happens when parents sit down to read with their children,” Jennie said. “PJ Library shares Jewish stories that can help families talk about their values and traditions. New PJ Library subscribers also receive a tzedakah box in December of their first year, which fosters the practice of giving and the meaning of tzedakah. Thanks to the support of Federation and PJ Library, we’re raising devoted readers and philanthropists. This partnership means kids and their families grow together as they explore just what being Jewish means.” Some of these budding philanthropists will soon be engaged in JFO’s Young Jewish Giving program, directed by Danielle Gordman, inspiring Jewish teens and college-aged students to make a difference in the community through tzedakah and Tikkun Olam.
The investment made by the JFO in the Kripke Jewish Federation Library has resulted in a world-class research, study, and recreational reading environment that benefits the entire Omaha community. Upcoming author events include Stanley Ginsberg (The Rye Baker) on Nov. 16, and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, scheduled for April 20, 2017. The Kripke Library, a true inter-generational facility, is also the home of the Friedel Jewish Academy’s library. PJ Library will highlight the library’s offerings for children during the JCC’s Hanukkah Extravaganza, Dec. 19 from 5-7 p.m.
With the increase in online resources and platforms to connect with other Jews around the world, the access points to serious adult Jewish learning are expanding daily. “The current opportunities for adult education in the Jewish community are both expansive and incredible,” Jennie said. “I’m excited to support and collaborate with the synagogues and other institutions of higher learning to elevate community programming.” The increased involvement and support of foundations, philanthropists, and federations plays a key role not only in providing financial resources, but as sources of ideas and engines of positive change. Alan Potash, Jewish Federation of Omaha CEO, said, “Our national umbrella, JFNA, is investing in the work of professionals like Jennie through the Department for Jewish Education and Engagement. This new initiative helps us expand opportunities for individuals and families in the Omaha community to connect to Jewish life. What better way to invest our Campaign dollars.”
JFO supplies financial assistance to religious school education at Beth El, Beth Israel, Temple Israel and Friedel Jewish Academy to promote Jewish education for the youth in our community. This subvention, which totals over $70,000 for the 2016-2017 school year, is calculated based on the number of children enrolled and hours taught at each institution. The JFO also works closely with Omaha Jewish educators to collaborate and provide support beyond subvention funds — whether that is coordinating training or Israel experiences for teachers, or organizing community-wide experiences to bring our youth together for learning or service opportunities.
According to Jennie Gates Beckman, the possibility to expand upon the existing Jewish education foundation in Omaha is almost limitless. “I’m putting together a parent advisory council to ensure we are addressing the needs and interests of all families looking to raise Jewish children. Together with the congregations and our Federation agencies, we’ll work to improve and maintain current adult educational programs and design additional learning opportunities for all ages. This is an exciting time for JFO and Jewish education in Omaha.”