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Institute for Jewish Life, records

Identifier: I-168

Scope and Content Note

The Institute for Jewish Life collection contains the minutes of the Board of Directors (Trustees) meetings (1972-1975) and staff meetings (1972-1973), background materials and reports pertaining to projects proposed and acted upon, annual reports, financial reports and miscellaneous publications.

Types of material in the collection include articles, correspondence, meeting minutes, pamphlets, photographs, press releases, proposals, publications, and reports.

The papers are valuable to researchers studying these aspects of Jewish history: Israel, Jewish community, Jewish education, Jewish family life, Jewish identity, Jewish leadership, media, social work, and Zionism.

The collection is in English and Yiddish.

The collection is arranged into five series.


  • undated, 1967, 1969-1976


Language of Materials

The collection is in English and Yiddish.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers by permission of the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society, except items that are restricted due to their fragility.

Use Restrictions

Information concerning the literary rights may be obtained from the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society. Users must apply in writing for permission to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection. For more information contact:

American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011


Historical Note

Institute for Jewish Life (1972-1976)

The Institute for Jewish Life (IJL) was created to enhance the quality of Jewish life in North America. At a 1968 Council for Jewish Federations (CJF) General Assembly, Gordon Zacks called for a $100 million fund to be established "to experiment with ways and means for assuring the creative continuation of American Jewish life.1" In November 1969, 300 concerned Jewish college students and faculty rallied for a radical change in the community's commitment to Jewish education and culture in front of the CJF General Assembly in Boston. At that Assembly, Gordon Zacks spoke about the creation of an independent National Foundation for Developing Jewish Identity.

The CJF Board of Directors took this proposal under consideration. A task force assessed whether such an endeavor could "effectively apply the substance of Judaism to create life styles that would satisfy and fulfill the needs of present and future generations.2" The Task Force on Jewish Identity, headed by Irving Blum and Hillel Levine, grew out of years of concern by many people of all forms of Jewish life. It surveyed the diverse views and sent recommendations to local Jewish communities for review. Blum and his group proposed a new instrument, a Fund of Jewish Life, which could affect "the total fabric of Jewish life and the influences which shape its quality.3" There was an obvious agreement on the great urgency of the need among the 38 cities surveyed. The recommendations were presented at the 1970 General Assembly. The IJL was created and approved by the almost unanimous decision of the November 1971 General Assembly held in Pittsburgh. The IJL was a major achievement of both the Board of Directors and the 1969 General Assembly.

The IJL was created in 1972 to seek and develop innovative programs that will "strengthen and enhance the quality of Jewish life.4" The IJL worked closely with organizations active in the field to achieve desired goals. The IJL operated under the supervision of the CJF, guided by the Board of Trustees selected by the CJF, responsible to and reporting regularly to the CJF Board, and was composed of persons reflecting a broad spectrum of Jewish life. The Trustees determined projects that would be funded and to what extent. The IJL's success depended on what it could do nationally as well as locally. The objective of the IJL is "the development of a productive and fulfilling Jewish life for our people, enriching the nations of which we are a part, and helping to enrich Jewish life everywhere.5"

The IJL assisted in setting up a new framework that would account for a variety of influences and ideas across a number of fields and overcome the fragmentation. The IJL was open to a wide range of approaches. It operated in educational and cultural fields and in other areas with the most potential for enhancing Jewish life, improving existing agencies with innovative projects, experiments and demonstrations. The IJL did not duplicate or compete with existing organizations but rather used them as fully as possible. Irving Blum urged the Federations not to look for quick results to complex problems. Max Fisher, the CJF president, emphasized that the IJL would be dealing with some of the most difficult problems and needs in Jewish life and that there would be no quick panacea.

Irving Blum was named chairman of the IJL. Blum, along with Philip Bernstein of the CJF, appointed Prof. Leon A. Jick as its first director in 1972. Jick was succeeded by Kenneth D. Roseman of Hebrew Union College in 1974. Jerold C. Hoffberger replaced Blum as chairman. A distinguished governing board of 73 members was selected from more than 400 recommended from Jewish communities across the U.S.6 Daniel Margolis (Assistant Director) and Robert Lapidus (Administrative Staff) started the work of the Institute. The IJL was endorsed by more than 230 Jewish community organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The first major test of the IJL was whether innovative projects could come to the forefront from organizations and individuals and whether they could be implemented. 161 formal project proposals were considered. The IJL received proposals for experimental projects from communities, organizations and individuals. It helped design projects to encourage new models and approaches. The IJL trained laymen and professionals for leadership responsibilities, and specialists to supervise innovations.7

The Institute targeted five major areas of concern: education; family life; leadership development and community organization; Israel as an education resource for American Jewry; and the arts, culture, and media. Federations contributed close to $1 million to the IJL. The Institute allocated $2 million for 44 projects regarded as being most promising and having the greatest chance for success.

The IJL granted fellowships to students interested in furthering their studies and obtaining positions of Jewish leadership (Fellowships in Jewish Educational Leadership a.k.a. FIJEL). It created a Media Project that served as a demonstration of how a centralized, national Jewish media center may serve the entire U.S. and Canadian Jewish community. The IJL funded and promoted projects designed to involve adults and children in more intensive forms of Jewish living.8

The IJL published a series of reports on its findings. The Institute's staff visited the communities across North America to assist with the re-creation of its most successful programs. The IJL was created for an initial period of three years. At the end of the third year, an evaluation found that the period was too short to judge the experience and its existence was extended to a fourth year. There was ongoing debate due to the extreme differences between community leaders and staff of the educational and cultural agencies. Doubts were expressed over a lack of financial support - the support provided from foundations and individuals fell far short of the monies needed.

The performance of the IJL was assessed. A consensus was reached that the IJL created a number of innovative projects of superior quality, served as a catalyst for new efforts both nationally and locally, and helped change the life of American Jewish communities. Many questions were posed about the necessity of setting up an organization for research and development for these purposes. The questions centered on how to bolster creativity within the Jewish communities.

After reconsidering their options, the Federations decided not to convert the Institute from a temporary demonstration to a permanent organization. The Federations advised the CJF to seek greater coordination and suggested a merger of the primary national organizations to ensure continuation of the most important national programs. The IJL closed in June 1976. FIJEL was taken over and continued by the American Association for Jewish Education (AAJE). The Jewish Media Service became managed by the Jewish Welfare Board, with the CJF and United Jewish Appeal as its sponsors. The CJF continued to help communities by replicating the most successful projects.9

In a report, "Venture in Creativity," the IJL emphasized that progress in improving Jewish identity is a step-by-step process.10 It also stated that many components that make up the quality of Jewish life, rather than any one element, would have to be strengthened to shape the paths for the future.


1 National Jewish Post and Opinion, New York, NY. "Institute of Jewish Life Gets 1, Not 5 Years More." [October 25, 1974]

2 Bernstein, Philip. To Dwell In Unity: The Jewish Federation Movement in America Since 1960. pp. 134. Varda Books: 2002.

3 Review and Prospect: The Institute for Jewish Life, February 1974 (I-168, Box 11, Folder 5)

4 "Institute for Jewish Life Gets Under Way; Prof. Jick Named Director" (

5 Bernstein, pp. 135.

6 Bernstein, pp. 135-136.

7 Brochure: Institute for Jewish Life. (I-168, Box 11, Folder 5)

8 Cleveland Jewish News. "Future Appears Dark for Institute for Jewish Life."

9 Bernstein, pp. 139.

10 Bernstein, pp. 139.


5.5 Linear Feet (11 manuscript boxes)

Guide to the Records of Institute for Jewish Life (1972-1976), undated, 1967, 1969-1976   *I-168
In Progress
Reprocessed by Marvin Rusinek
© 2011
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States