New combined group will be at the forefront of renewing American Jewish life, and creating a more sustainable world for all…
It’s not a takeover—it’s genuinely a merger.
The combined organization will be called Hazon. The Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center will still be called that—the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center. The new enlarged Hazon will have a slew of programs that continue to have their own names and their own distinct programmatic focus—including not just “Isabella Freedman” but also, for example, Adamah, Elat Chayyim, the Jew & the Carrot, the Jewish Greening Fellowship, Siach, etc. One other distinct program will be the Teva Learning Alliance. Teva, which until now has formally been a program of Surprise Lake, is also going to be part of the merged organization.
Nigel Savage and David Weisberg are jointly running the new organization. Nigel has the title “President” and David has the title “Chief Executive Officer.” To some extent, Nigel will focus a little more on “outside” and David will focus a little more on “inside”—but there a huge exceptions to this, on both sides. David and Nigel have known each other for many years, they’ve worked together effectively in the past, and they’ve also worked together very effectively during the 12 months (!) that the merger has been under discussion. We think they can pull it off.
The word Hazon means “vision.” All of our programs—Hazon’s and Isabella Freedman’s—express new vision in the Jewish world in powerful ways.
In particular, we’re renewing American Jewish life in profound ways. We’re using powerful and under-utilized doorways to Jewish life to do that—food education, outdoor education, environmental education. All our programs are Jewishly-serious. All our programs are open to people of any Jewish background—or none. All of them care about people as individuals—and their own personal journeys—and how together we build stronger communities and institutions. And we think that the choice between “building a better Jewish community” and “creating a better world for all” is pretty much a false choice—one way or another, most of our programs, we think, do both.
One way of understanding the new Hazon is to think about two different kinds of participants: individuals and institutions.
Some participants come to us as individuals—they want to go to a retreat, a bike ride, a conference—and they want to have a great time and hopefully a meaningful time. That’s a big part of what we do.
Some participants come to us as leaders of institutions—schools who send kids to Teva, institutions who do retreats at IF, rabbis or dayschools or synagogues who come to Hazon for resources. This is the other big part of what we do.
One key goal of the merger is to expand both these aspects of our work:
- For individuals, we’ll have an even wider range of programs to offer.
- For institutions, and institutional leaders, we’ll have many more resources, and a greater ability to tailor them to develop long-term strategies to renew key parts of the American Jewish community.
The new organization will have a single board, comprising some members of the existing Hazon board, some members of the existing IF board, and some new people.
The new board chair will be Richard Shuster (an existing IF board member, taking an initial two-year term). Richard Dale and Mark Russo, the outgoing chairs of Hazon and IF, will have ex-officio roles as immediate past chairs. (We’re sensitive to the fact that there are only men on this list. The Hazon board has always aimed for, and has usually had, an equal number of women and men on the board, and the new board will have roughly equal numbers of women and men. The fact that all the recent chairs have been men doesn’t mean that they always will be; on the contrary, it means we’ll put as much effort as we can to find a suitably qualified woman who wants to chair the organization in the future.)
The culture of the board will explicitly be modeled on that of the Hazon board, which has a strong and explicit commitment to best practice in relation to governance, etc. The new board will have clear commitments to iterative best practice, and will hold both board members and the organization to the highest standards.
Board members will commit to stewarding the organization well overall; to give a personally- significant financial gift; and to be actively sleeves-rolled-up in one or more specific areas of the new organization’s work.
We’re proud of the work we’ve done in the last couple of years to strengthen and refresh the Elat Chayyim name and brand. The things for which it stands—renewing Jewish life; incorporating spirituality into Jewish practice; being at the front-edge of our engagement with feminism and with other spiritual traditions—are central to Elat Chayyim in 2013, and we hope and intend that EC will grow and flourish in the future. (BTW: Nigel Savage spent the summer of 1998 interning at EC, at Accord—separately from his role at Hazon, he has his own attachment to the history and legacy of EC.)
As an independent organization, Hazon has helped to raise over $200,000 for Adamah, including the first-ever grant to start the program, and the downpayment on the Adamah house.
Similarly, both Hazon and IF have worked incredibly closely with Teva, since inception.
We see Adamah and Teva as central to the combined organization. And we especially want to put more resources into supporting and networking the alumni.
In October 2012, Hazon received a major grant from a consortium of foundations, led by the Jim Joseph Foundation, to do research into the impact of Jewish food education, Jewish environmental education and Jewish outdoor education. This research will take place during 2013, and we’ll seek support and involvement from many Adamahniks and Tevaniks. The intention of the research is to substantiate the work of our movement, widely construed, over the last decade, and Adamah and Teva are at the center of this. If we’re successful, we’d hope by 2014 to raise new money to support the growth of Adamah and Teva. (Both Nili Simhai, the outgoing director of Teva, and Adam Berman, the founder of Adamah and ED of Urban Adamah, are on the Advisory Council helping to support this research.)
Senior adult summer camp has been a staple of Isabella Freedman’s offerings for decades, in fact longer so than any other programs that the organization currently offers, and there is no intention for this longstanding tradition to not continue within the enlarged Hazon.
A primary reason that Isabella Freedman has been able to sustain its senior adult program for decades, despite a rapidly changing senior adult program market, has been the organization’s ability to diversify its revenue sources through its large catalog of retreats and other program offerings. While similar organizations that cater (or catered) exclusively to the senior adult market are struggling or have had to close their doors, Isabella Freedman has been able to continue its commitment to the senior community by creating incredibly diverse program-based revenue streams that reach far beyond the senior market. The merger with Hazon will only increase this diversity, allowing a stronger financial foundation on which to continue senior adult programming.
This is not one of those mergers where you combine two organizations and then fire a bunch of people. We think the two organizations are, if anything, understaffed. The future is unknown and, in particular, if at any point revenues drop significantly we’d have to reduce headcount. But our goal in merging is the opposite—we want to increase revenues, grow the organization, add new staff-members, and create the strongest possible work environment for all our staff.
What does this mean for other Jewish green groups—Amir, COEJL, Eden Village, Jewish Farm School, Pearlstone, Urban Adamah, Wilderness Torah etc?
Both Hazon and IF already have a strong record of partnering with other groups. We probably do this imperfectly, but we see our role as being to move forwards our entire field, broadly construed—Jewish environmental education, Jewish food education, Jewish outdoor education.
So we already have working partnerships with many groups:
- Hazon is fiscal sponsor to JFS and WT and used to be fiscal sponsor to Urban Adamah.
- We’ve given mini-grants to many groups in this arena.
- We’re members of the Green Hevre.
- We’re leading a research project, funded by Jim Joseph and a consortium of other foundations, that’s intended to strengthen not just our own work but that of the entire field.
Moving forwards: we want to be as supportive as we possibly can be with other groups that broadly share our values. Although obviously for particular reasons there will be times that we may not be able to do what other organizations want, in general we feel that, by virtue of our size, we now have a real responsibility to other and smaller groups in our space. If and when we can help them we will always try to do so. It’s really important to us to be, and to be seen to be, good citizens.
The Rides are a vital part of the new organization. We see them as being significant in their own right (in terms of human impact) and significant also in terms of fundraising.
Over the next year or two, we hope that the merger will strengthen the Rides:
- The NY Ride is now back at IF—and in 2013 it will explicitly be raising money for IF, Adamah and Teva, all of which ride participants will now experience. So we hope that the NY Ride grows and that the merger will help participants fundraise, because they’ll have a more direct relationship with where much of the money will go. In 2013, because we’re back at IF and we’re now a single organization, we’re going to be offering a new low-cost camping option for 20- and 30-somethings.
- We hope that we’ll be able to include at least two or three Adamahniks or Tevaniks in the CA, Cross-USA and Israel Rides, to strengthen those rides also.
- Separately from the merger, there’s a new Rides Taskforce, chaired by Israel Ride chair Howie Rodenstein, looking at all the Rides—trying to figure out how to grow them and strengthen them.
The idea is that the merger will enable us to deepen and broaden—deepen our work at Isabella Freedman, broaden our impact around the country. So the existing offices in CA and CO are a key part of our strategy. We expect to open a third regional office in 2013, and over the next few years, the idea is that the merger will let us strengthen the work that we do, on the ground, in a growing number of parts of the country.