Shaping Your Future: CJF

CJFee: (adj). def.  Leadership qualities, exclusive, debriefing…

These are a few words that come to mind when I hear the term. How do you define it?

However students define the adjective, the Center for the Jewish Future has a vast influence on the Yeshiva University campus and beyond.

Over winter break, the CJF sent 91 students abroad on a variety of service learning trips. This winters’ trips is yet another successful feather in the CJF’s well adorned cap. The students on these trips join the ranks of their CJFee predecessors- 1016 students sent on 50 service-learning missions since 2005.

These service leaning initiatives directly reflect the CJF’s mission:

To shape, enrich, and inspire the contemporary Jewish community by convening and empowering the resources of Yeshiva University to, as the CJF mission explains:

Infuse the student body with a spirit of leadership and sense of Klal Yisrael

Build, cultivate, and support communities, rabbinic and lay leaders, and individuals

Create a global movement that promotes the values of Yeshiva University

What does this mean? According to Dean of the CJF, Rabbi Kenneth Brander, the CJF caters services to the Jewish community in 3 different ways: inspiring students, work with communities, and spreading the Torah of YU to the larger community. Effectively, The CJF promotes student activism, creative tenor, and creativity.

The CJF, as many students are aware, accomplished this goal through running a variety of programs. Although service-learning missions are the most popular CJF activity among YU students (closely followed by the Schrieber Torah Tours in which 3475 students have participated since its inception in 2005) the CJF spearheads many more programs than just these student missions. The CJF also pioneers initiatives including (but not limited to) the Medical Ethics Society, ChampionsGate Leadership Conference, YU Connects, Quest, Student Life, Torah Tours, Service Learning Programs, and Counterpoint.

“In return [for all of this],” Brander explains, “you get positive energy from students which has a reciprocal effect on YU.” Brander continues emphasizing “The CJF shouldn’t be taking credit for these initiatives other than that it allows students to inspire themselves.”

The CJF’s empowering qualities expands farther than the walls of YU. Josh Joseph, Vice President of Yeshiva University and the Chief of Staff to President Richard M. Joel who previously worked for the CJF and its precursor – the Max Stern Division of Communal Services, shares that “For me what’s exciting about the CJF is that it provides us with an opportunity to incubate programs and projects that impact not only the students and the broader YU community on our campuses, but also the communities across North America – and beyond. In that way, we take YU beyond its walls and share our products with the world.”

The CJF pioneers a variety of national Jewish community leadership programs ranging from community outreach to rabbinic placement and continued rabbinic networking.

The CJF has also begun combatting what some have dubbed as “the shidduch crisis.” YU Connects, which, incidentally, was started because of ChampionsGate, is not solely a matchmaking service, but it also geared towards fostering and maintaining healthy relationships. YU Connects has opened communication and encourage discussing positive relationships and intimacy. Brander stresses that the Jewish community, as a whole, must begin discussing positive relationships and intimacy as early as elementary school: “We need to start talking about it young so we can affect out future,” he says. To that effect, the CJF has reached out and partnered with a few local elementary schools to tailor intimacy and healthy relation lessons for youths in order to stimulate a more positive state of affairs.

In a similar vein, a newly established rabbinic marriage counseling programs has already certified 45 rabbis and counting as marriage counselors. Once a rabbi leaves YU, he still has a network. If he has a problem—perhaps needs to take a course in marriage counseling—he can turn back to his Alma matter without hesitation. “Even though rabbis leave the ‘YU nest’,” Brander explains, “They’re not alone. There are continued education opportunities as well as a network of rabbis for them to access.” The CJF provides ongoing educational opportunities as well as rabbinic consulting opportunities for rabbis in the field.

Rabbi Brander rhetorically poses the question, “Did you ever wonder if your rabbi has a rabbi?” Well, in terms of community rabbis trained and associated by the CJF, the answer is an empathic yes—a whole community worth. The CJF has created an online network of rabbis, the Rabanan website. Through this site, rabbis gain access to interactive classes, questions and answers, and discussion forums. Hundreds of rabbis from around the world are involved in this site, which is run from Hollywood, Florida, by Rebbetzin Meira Davis.

There is also “a secured blog run by Rabbi Josh Flug where they can discuss issues that they’d feel uncomfortable discussing in a more public forum,” explains Brander. Similarly, the CJF orchestrates online conference calls every 6-8 weeks in which around 100 rabbis participate.

While the CJF creates a home away from home sort of network for rabbis, these rabbis are well prepared for their independent jobs in their respective Jewish communities. Give a man a fish, he’ll have food for a day; teach a man to fish you’ll feed him for life. The CJF teaches their rabbis to fish. In addition to the continued networking provided, they, very basically, train communities how to do their own placement and provide rabbis with 400-page leadership and placement guidebooks.

For the community member and Torah seeker, these rabbis come as a tremendous resource. Moreover, these rabbis, in conjunction with the CJF are launching a new Torah TED Talks initiative accessible to community members and Torah seekers worldwide. The CJF is in the process of creating these online TED talks delivered by Torah scholars on pertinent, interesting Torah topics.

The CJF has created a community of community leaders. These are people who believe in Torah U’Madda.

If the extent of your CJF exposure is the word CJFee, I urge you to expand your horizons and become familiarized with the countless CJF initiatives that serve to better our home communities.