Quarterly Report Message

Who is wise? Who is mighty?

by David Waksberg

My father’s father grew up in a small city in western Poland. Inspired by Theodor Herzl, he was frustrated by his yeshiva’s unwillingness to embrace Zionism and its inability to address his deepest concerns. Expelled for reading Spinoza (hidden under his Talmud tractate), he joined the Zionists and never looked back.

My mother’s father grew up on a remote farm near the Polish-Ukrainian frontier.  Which side of the border depended on the year. Far from Jewish population centers, his early Jewish education relied upon a “circuit rabbi,” who made the rounds, visiting his farm once or twice a week.

Later in life, he shared some of the wisdom he’d gleaned from that circuit rabbi, so many decades earlier. It was my grandfather who introduced me to teachings of Ben Zoma from Pirke Avot: “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone. Who is mighty? One who subdues one’s urges. Who is rich? One who rejoices in one’s portion.  Who is honored? One who honors one’s fellows.”

More than a century after he visited my grandfather’s farm, that circuit rabbi’s teaching endures - passed down, from his student to his student’s grandchildren.

How and why did the circuit rabbi make such an impact on my grandfather?

That rabbi forged what social scientists call a “trusting relationship.” He lovingly shared nuggets of Torah along with pieces of his soul. He inspired my grandfather to be a person whose life was informed and guided by Jewish wisdom.

Researchers have found that “trusting relationships” (between teacher and student and among teachers and other educational stakeholders) are a core factor in effective learning. As Parker Palmer has written: “...you can throw the best methods, the latest equipment, and a lot of money at people who do not trust each other and still get miserable results... [while] people who trust each other and work well together can do exceptional work…”

We live in an age of massive scalability. Our @Home holiday guides are published online and thousands of families with young children download them, here in Northern California and all over the world. Our reach is tremendous, and the benefits and blessings of technology are to be used and appreciated. And yet, if we forget the importance and value of building trusting relationships, our reach will be vast but shallow.

Thus, we pursue a “high tech/high touch” strategy. The Internet helps us connect, helps overcome distance, traffic, and much of the “friction” of post-industrial life.  But woe to us if we become distracted or dazzled by the lure of its scalability and neglect the critical importance of relationships. Otherwise, our frantic efforts to increase numbers could be reduced to a “turnstile” approach to education, privileging volume over substance. But when we reflect upon our most memorable and enduring learning experiences - they tend to involve relationships and deep engagement.

Our Kesher concierges could interact with more parents of young children – once.  But we (and the parents we serve) see more value in deeper, truly meaningful connections.

Similarly, in our work with educators, we are digging deeper, with coaching, mentorships, fellowships, and other relationship-based professional learning programs.  

These interactions provide concrete knowledge, skills, and tools for educators to up their game. AND – we believe that professional development is most effective when it travels on the tracks of deep and trusting relationships.

This approach takes time, energy, focus and resources. Research, history and our experience has shown that it is the ONLY approach to education that is worthwhile, because it’s the only approach that works.

Learning is relational – this is among the educational principles that guide us, emerging from last year’s strategic plan. In the months to come, I will share with you some concrete examples of how we put this and other principles into practice.

Around the time that circuit rabbi visited my grandfather, the Jewish Educational Society (now Jewish LearningWorks) was founded. With your support, we continue to build on that tradition, advancing Jewish learning that enriches lives.

Thank you for taking the time to dig deeper into our work. I would love to hear from you if you have thoughts or questions about our educational approach. As always, if you are interested in connecting (or connecting more deeply) with our family learning efforts, our professional learning programs or our Jewish Community Library - please be in touch.

Strategic Direction | Details, Background and Frequently Asked Questions

Jewish LearningWorks | Strategic Direction
Details, Background and Frequently Asked Questions

Recognizing that Jewish life and community are profoundly changing, Jewish LearningWorks underwent an inclusive strategic planning process in 2017– to reassess our purpose, strategies, as well as our operating and revenue model in light of those changes. We met with a cross section of stakeholders across our community, engaged in deep discussions with our staff and convened a task force to speak on behalf of groups they represent.

Strategic Direction

What communal educational needs did this process identify?

Educational leaders seek enhanced support for teachers and help in teaching Jewish values during confusing and challenging times. Parents are asking for continued and expanded parent/family learning opportunities. Book-lovers want continuing library programs and services.

What were articulated as Jewish LearningWorks’ strengths?

Educators from community schools and synagogues told us they highly value the professional development that Jewish LearningWorks has provided. They  also appreciate our ability to respond rapidly and effectively to help educators deal with crises.

Parents and family educators value our Holiday@Home handbooks and the Kesher concierge program. Library patrons appreciate literature-based educational and family outreach programs along with the library’s circulation and reference services.

Overall, our stakeholders urged us to continue investing in the next generation by empowering educators and parents and supporting Northern California’s only Jewish Community Library.  

How will the work change?

While we will continue to support educators and families, the way we support them has changed  in a few important ways.

Our Professional Learning Team offers a robust menu of fellowships, seminars, workshops, mentorships, curricula, and educational resources to empower teachers and educational leaders to more effectively serve their students.  In response to our learnings from the first annual Bay Area Teacher/Educator Survey, we are reaching educators through high-touch concierge style outreach methods, creating specialized tracks and learning plans to fit needs and availability. In everything we do, our aim is to empower educators with knowledge, skills, and tools to help their students flourish as human beings and as Jews.

Our Family Learning Team continues to build out our suite of printable @Home Guides for parents and operates our Kesher Concierge programs in the South Peninsula and in Marin County. In addition to making connections among families and offering a monthly e-roundup of everything Jewish for families, Kesher will be convening holiday and Shabbat programs to empower parents to learn by doing. Our Family Education work will focus on empowering parents to create and sustain Jewish life and learning that enriches their families.

Our Jewish Community Library continues to serve Jewish book-lovers and Jewish-Book lovers through the largest Jewish lending library in Northern California and our two curated satellite pushcarts.  Thousands of books, CD’s, movies and periodicals are plucked from the shelves by learners of all ages and we produce hundreds of well-attended public programs each year.  We continue to receive rave reviews for our events which include lectures, book groups, film classes, family story time and much more.

We advance Jewish learning that enables students to deepen their impact on their families, their communities, and the world. We measure our work by the degree to which we succeed in helping teachers and parents create learning experiences that enrich the lives of students and their families.  


Other Big Changes

How will you keep this work accessible?
With gratitude to our community of foundations, philanthropies and donors, we are able to keep our programs affordable for educators working in an increasingly expensive community. Most of our programs are highly subsidised and some of our programs are offered completely free of charge.

We have also moved our main headquarters from the Richmond District, to 44 Page Street - a smaller location more accessible to public transportation.

We have leased the buildings we own to Stratford School – a highly regarded private Preschool-12 institute.Stratford has committed to investing several million dollars into our property which will increase its value well into the future, enabling Jewish LearningWorks to further sustain and grow valuable educational services for our community.

Is Jewish LearningWorks financially independent and no longer in need of  donor support?

We continue to rely on donor support, for which we remain extremely grateful.  The revenue from the lease will replace the operating support we had received from the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation, but the majority of our funding continues to come from individual donors who care about Jewish education, from foundations who support specific educational programs, and from earned income – fees that schools and educators pay for our services. And, we continue to receive grants from the Jewish Community Federation for specific programs. The lease will help us cover basic administrative costs, enabling philanthropic donations to more directly support educational initiatives.

How can I learn more?

Contact us at changes@jewishlearningworks.org with questions about our strategic plan, our new programs to serve the community, our real estate deal or our anticipated move.


A Message from our President

For me, learning is the nexus of our past and our future. Jewish learning is the gateway to a profound heritage that touches and explores every aspect of the human experience with honesty, wisdom and humor.  Only through education can we embed generations to come with the richness of our intellectual and spiritual history, making it a central, meaningful part of their lives as Jews, today and tomorrow.   

Jewish learning inspires us to examine what it means to live by values deeply rooted in Jewish tradition: critical thinking and debate, welcoming the stranger, responsibility for the vulnerable, repairing the world.  Jewish learning builds connections to the past, among Jews across generations and cultures, to Israel, and to values that can help make a better world.

Jewish LearningWorks is the only organization in the Bay Area that provides the backbone for high-quality Jewish learning – ensuring that teachers have the highest possible knowledge and pedagogical skills, that curricula are up-to-date, and that first-rate educational opportunities are available in the plethora of learning environments, styles, and readiness that our diverse community and modern life demand. 

In today’s world, Jewish learning must be both broad and deep.  I am proud of how Jewish LearningWorks accomplishes this, through a range of offerings from our extensive programs for professional educators, to Israel-related initiatives, to opportunities that provide in-home and event-based experiences for Jews with a variety of interests and learning needs. 

 I am particularly grateful for the dedication and capabilities of our extraordinary board of directors, our devoted programming and administrative staff, and our exceptional CEO. 

As the parent of three now-grown children, I have witnessed and experienced the impact that strong Jewish education has had on my family and our community. When I became involved with Jewish LearningWorks, eight years ago, I realized how deeply my family’s Jewish education was impacted by this organization. I am grateful to Jewish LearningWorks and honored to serve as its board president. 


Julie Dorsey

A Message from Our CEO


Thank you for your continued commitment to Jewish learning.  Your support has enabled us to engage more families and youth, strengthen more schools and more teachers, and develop programs and products that challenge, inspire and evolve the way Jewish learning works.

In this first of four quarterly reports, we offer a brief review of what we’ve accomplished and, with your support, what we hope to achieve in the coming year to improve and extend Jewish learning in our community.

Last year, we helped educators enhance their students’ learning experiences by leading 89 professional development workshops, seminars and fellowship sessions and another 144 consultations, serving more than 1,300 educators at 140 schools and organizations.

We reached nearly 4,000 teens and teen educators in our teen leadership development programs; and we engaged another 3,500 families with young children through gatherings, learning programs, resources, concierge consultations, and our printable Jewish@Home guides.

Once again, over 10,000 people benefited from Northern California’s only Jewish Community Library, participating in learning programs for adults, children, and families.

With the support of Jewish Community Federations on all sides of the Bay, our special education team is leading efforts to make Jewish learning inclusive and welcoming for all learners.  Last year, 15 schools and organizations participated in INCLUDE, which reached hundreds of educators, families, and students.

Thanks to your support, we’ve become the community’s central address for Israel education.  Working with schools, synagogues and teen programs, we help students engage with Israel.  In the midst of last summer’s Gaza War, we provided schools and educators with curricula and resources.  By year’s end, we collaborated with 200 educators at schools throughout Northern California to improve Israel education.

We’ve also continued to lead the Embodied Jewish Learning movement, expanding beyond classes and workshops to lead the first Yoga and Jewish Wisdom teacher training program.

All this and so much more is possible because of YOU! 

We will continue to send monthly email updates with invitations, highlights, resources and much more.  Please reach out to Magna@jewishlearningworks.org or call 751.6983 x117 to be added to our mailing list.  We promise not to share your information with anyone.

Because you care enough to give, we continue to offer hundreds of free or low cost events, workshops, and services each year throughout the Bay Area and have an ever-growing resource center on this updated website.  I invite you to poke around, and if you have an idea to make it better, please let us know! 

Your support makes this work possible.

Thank you!



David Waksberg
Chief Executive Officer