S.F.s Jim Joseph Foundation gives $10.7 million to Hillel

No doubt about it, Bob Dylan was on to something when he penned “The Times They Are A-Changin” in 1964. And now, times have changed so much, many young people aren’t even familiar with the Dylan reference.

Chip Edelsberg wouldn’t be surprised.

He knows that Jews in their 20s are not living similar lives or thinking similar thoughts to their forbears of a generation ago.

Reaching them with Jewish ideas will require organizations to change their methodology — and invest a big chunk of change.

This week, San Francisco’s Jim Joseph Foundation, of which Edelsberg is executive director, announced a five-year, $10.7 million grant to Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

“We recognize that the Jewish community doesn’t have a lot of infrastructure to respond to 20-somethings,” said Edelsberg.

“This is a perfect place for us to partner with a strong grantee [Hillel] to have a potentially profound impact on the lives of young Jewish adults.”

The Jim Joseph Foundation was established in 2006. It derives its name — and much of its $500 million endowment — from Jim Joseph, a local developer with a passion for Jewish education and continuity.

The grant — the largest Hillel ever has received — is specifically aimed at spreading a pair of successful programs previously implemented at UCLA.

Both the Experiential Educator Exemplar (E3) Program and Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative, in a nutshell, direct Jewish students to engage their contemporaries one-on-one and away from the Hillel house.

“It’s a peer-to-peer thing,” said Al Levitt, the president of the Jim Joseph Foundation board. “Because it’s not involved directly with the Hillel houses themselves, we hope to reach the young people who just don’t want to go to a Hillel house or don’t have the inclination to do so.”

By the fall, Hillel hopes to establish the E3 program at five more universities, and five more in 2009.

“It has been very successful at UCLA. It has attracted a large number of students who, otherwise, would not be involved,” Levitt said.

“This is the kind of grant that involves a certain amount of risk — but if not now, when?”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.