Miriam Prum Hess is a Vice President of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation and Director of Day School Operations for its Bureau of Jewish Education. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Mark, and two children Eliana and Ezra, who both attend day school. She invites you to contact her for more information on starting Concierge programs in your community. She can be reached at or email@example.com.
The double parasha Nitzavim-Vayelech, is read on the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, a time when the Jewish community is about to stand together for individual and communal judgment. It is most appropriate that in this parasha, as Moshe is preparing to die, he assembles the community to deliver his final message. The message reiterates the Covenant God made not only with the Israelites standing at Mt. Sinai but with all future generations. “I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before Hashem our God and with those who are not with us here this day.” (Deuteronomy 29:9-14)
A chapter later we hear echoes of the liturgy from Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur: “See I have placed before you today life and good, and death and evil… and you shall choose life, so that you will live, you and your offspring ….” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20) The message is clear: each individual has the ability to choose good from evil and to maintain our Covenant with God.
How can a Covenant contracted centuries ago obligate not just our forefathers and foremothers, but each of us and all generations to come? As the forbearers of the future generations, what is our responsibility?
Talmud Kiddushin 29a, describes a father’s obligation, to teach his child Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a trade. Others say: teaching him how to swim as well. Rabbinic tradition focuses on intellectual and spiritual competency, as well as practical knowledge to assure survival. No parent today would deny the importance of each element in raising a child. But as Jewish parents, how can we find the right balance in our child’s education – science, math, humanities and Torah. By ensuring that Torah is an essential component in our lives and our children’s lives we will be choosing life and continuing the Covenant with all future generations.
For many Jews who are not already well-connected to a community, the effort necessary to walk down the Jewish education path can be quite daunting or at worst a complete turn-off. How do they discover what is available or find the synagogue, Jewish pre-school, religious school or day school, camp or youth program that will meet their family’s needs? Wouldn’t it be great to have one person, like a hotel concierge, who can give directions and inform you as to your available options?
Last spring the Los Angeles Jewish community launched Concierge for Jewish Education, a multi-dimensional, city-wide, marketing initiative to personally reach out to families and help connect them with the entire range of formal and informal Jewish educational opportunities for their children. With a phone call or one click on a website, a parent can contact a Jewish Concierge, a Jewish communal professional, who will listen to what the parent is looking for and then identify the range of options available. The role of the concierges is to: ??
- Help connect families and individuals with the Jewish educational programs that are right for them
- Follow-up,follow-up,follow up with families by using customer relations management technology
- Nurture relationships with Jewish educational institutions (formal and informal), to assist the organization in following up on referrals and ensuring that the best matches are made between student and program.
- Reach out to community influentials to make them aware of the service and generate referrals (e.g. pediatricians, realtors, dentists, parent and me program instructors).
- Place information about the Concierge service in key gathering spots for parents (gyms, park and recreation settings, Rosh Hashana and Passover food displays at markets, etc.)
- Maintain an interactive website to provide families with access to a sophisticated search engine for Jewish educational resources and opportunities to sign-up for age and geographically appropriate event e-blasts.
Through these methods, the Concierge Program is fulfilling the responsibility to help parents educate their children – the future generations of the Covenant.
One recent call came from a family who will be relocating from New Jersey to Los Angeles (LA) in fall 2008 and inquiring about schools for their children. The family has two children in day school and is expecting their third child around Passover. The Concierge was able to help the family connect to several possible day schools in LA (including helping to coordinate a trip to LA based on school open houses), assist the family in identifying synagogues for affiliation and also neighborhoods for housing. Following the visit, the Concierge will continue to assist the family in their relocation, thus ensuring that they will not feel lost upon their move to a new city.
The Concierges also conducted a workshop for first time parents on “Choosing an Early Childhood Program.” Families, all enrolled in a specific non-Jewish Parent and Me program, gathered in a living room to learn about different pre-school philosophies and what to look for in visiting a school and in speaking with staff and parents. The unique value of attending a Jewish pre-school was highlighted and follow-up conversations are being held with each family to assist them in finding the right Jewish pre-school for their child.
The Concierge program was the vision of numerous LA leaders, including Wexner alumna Susan Jacoby Stern who chaired the BJE Marketing Committee. It also received tremendous support from members of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation and its LA Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund, including Wexner alumni Brian Shirken, Steven Feder, Evan Schlessinger and Markus Rothstein. The program was funded through a two-year Cutting Edge Grant from the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation.
The Concierge Program not only focuses on ensuring that the Covenant is shared with future generations but that the experience is filled with joy. In the second of these parshiot, Vayelech, Moses instructs, “…when all Israel comes to appear before Hashem… you will read this Torah before all of Israel… Gather together the people – the men, and the women, and the small children, and your stranger who is in your cities… Write this song for yourself and teach it to the Children of Israel, place it in their mouths….” (Deuteronomy 31:10-12, 19).
May the New Year 5768 be filled with song and the sweetness of learning and teaching future generations.