By Rabbi Phil Warmflash, Executive Director

Tomorrow night is Rosh Hashana 5774.  This is traditionally a time for reflection on the past and planning for the future, but this year, with Rosh Hashana coming on the heels of Labor Day and the “end of the summer,” the sense of change and possibility is heightened.

This year, as I begin my twenty-first year in Philadelphia, I have been thinking a great deal about my Jewish ventures since arriving with my family from Los Angeles.

In 1993, I came to assume the role of Executive Director of the Community Hebrew Schools (CHS), which offered non-synagogue-based supplementary education.  Over the next several years, CHS began to reach out to Jewish families and children across Greater Philadelphia and to help congregations prepare to welcome these families.  In time, CHS became Jewish Outreach Partnership (JOP): the school closed, the outreach slowed, but the congregational ventures — with institutional strengthening programs like Reshet — expanded and gained recognition locally and across the country.

Seven years ago, across the parking lot from JOP, the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education (ACAJE) was anticipating a change.  Helene Tigay, the outstanding Jewish educator and builder of ACAJE for twenty years, announced her retirement. ACAJE focused on congregational education and, like JOP, ventured into areas that were innovative and exciting and forged new paths.  Its NESS (Nurturing Excellence in Supplementary Schools) initiative, which was in its second cohort in Philadelphia, was being replicated in San Francisco and was preparing to launch in other communities. Community and agency leaders saw an opportunity to hire a new Director and to take a somewhat risky, but exciting, step: to merge ACAJE and JOP, which came to fruition in 2009.

At the outset of the third year of the merger, the agency temporarily known as ACAJE/JOP became Jewish Learning Venture.  Why did we choose that name?  Well, Jewish Learning was easy, but ‘Venture’?  We heard, “It’s not a good word because it signifies risk, and ventures don’t always work out!”  That is precisely why we chose it.  Our work to ensure that a new generation of Jews find meaning in Jewish life, learning and community has risk — but more so, great potential.

These last 20 years have been my evolving Jewish learning venture. I have been fortunate to share a vision with professional and lay leaders who were ready to venture with me. Our collaborations have taken me to places and in directions that I could never have foreseen back in 1992.  Most of our endeavors have succeeded, been incredibly personally fulfilling and, I think, have brought value to our Jewish community.

As I stand at the entrance to 5774, I believe I am ready to continue that venture.  This blog, which I have been thinking about writing for several years, is a first step in that process.

Each Tuesday, look for a new post from me or one of our talented Jewish Learning Venture staff members.  Every month, we will focus on a new aspect of Jewish life, learning and community.  The content will be rich, and we invite you to join us on this new venture by reading and responding to our blogs.

May 5774 be the year for your next Jewish learning venture. May you be inspired and empowered to find meaning and relevance every day in your Jewish life, learning and community.

And when you venture, please know that we at Jewish Learning Venture are here to offer resources, networks, opportunities, consultation, community programs, and much more throughout the year.

Where would you like your Jewish learning venture take you in the coming year? Share in the comments below!