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Philanthropists Pledge $3.5 million for BBYO, Inc and PANIM to Combine and Establish PANIM Institute of Jewish Leadership and Values as Division of BBYO

August 28, 2009


Washington, DC – Recognizing that the future of our Jewish Community depends on the extent to which young people are inspired to explore Jewish values and traditions, two of the Jewish Community’s premier organizations focused on Jewish teens – BBYO and PANIM – are joining forces. On September 1, 2009, BBYO will establish the PANIM Institute as a division of BBYO. The PANIM Institute will offer compelling content and experiences to Jewish institutions and teens focused on service, advocacy and philanthropy, ultimately creating a movement of young activists ready to take on the challenges facing society and the Jewish community.

“This signals an important change in how the Jewish community confronts issues,” said Howard Wohl, BBYO’s Chairman of the Board. “By joining forces, two key Jewish organizations create a more efficient structure. We’re coupling PANIM’s 20-year track record of providing engaging programs in Jewish values with BBYO’s growing network of 28,000 Jewish teens, regional structure of talented professionals and advanced technology. This is the way forward to create a more hopeful Jewish future.”

The two organizations began exploratory discussions several months ago when PANIM founder Rabbi Sid Schwarz decided to step down as President and CEO. Professional and volunteer leaders from both sides quickly saw an opportunity to bring together two organizations whose missions and core competencies would not only complement, but also build on one another.

“PANIM offers a captivating curriculum around topics that are of proven interest to teens,” said Matthew Grossman, BBYO’s Executive Director. “Mobilizing BBYO’s vast network of young people with community building tools and a sense of purpose will attract their peers who have not yet found a connection to Judaism. Offering experiences and content that appeal to the altruistic instincts of the teen audience is yet another opportunity for BBYO to strengthen the Jewish people.”

Youth Service America reports that youth today are volunteering at record rates, more than any generation in history. “We know that Jewish young people are seeking meaning and they don’t necessarily presume it will be found in Jewish institutions,” said Dr. Leonard Saxe, Director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies. “The strategy of attracting teens by offering them and their peer networks a platform to engage in social issues is a potentially powerful way to allow them to create meaning in their lives.”

“Ultimately, we are building a cross-institutional grassroots network of young people who have the skills and tools to take action on issues that are important to them and to the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, the Director of the PANIM Institute. “Together, we will be able to create new technological platforms, forge unique partnerships with Jewish and secular organizations and significantly expand and enhance our programmatic offerings to get more teens engaged.”

For example, programs like BBYO’s Project Impact, a summer community service experience offered in partnership with Brandeis University and “Stand Up!,” a teen-led advocacy initiative, will be strengthened through the integration of PANIM’s renowned curriculum and resources.

While new strategies are being developed, the PANIM Institute will continue to offer PANIM’s signature Panim el Panim program along with its summer service programs and J-Serve. These programs will provide the same high quality programs to its existing network of feeder institutions, including synagogues, day schools, JCC’s and Hebrew high schools.

“I was active in PANIM and also participated in BBYO programs as a teen,” said Melissa Goldberg, a junior at Washington University in St. Louis from Rockville, MD. “I was very interested in service and advocacy in high school, and I know that even more of today’s teens are interested in taking action on issues that are important to them. For that reason, I think BBYO and PANIM joining forces is really smart. It will provide an opportunity for so many more teens to get involved in changing the world around them.”

Making the PANIM Institute possible was a six month fundraising campaign by leaders of both PANIM and BBYO that led to $3.5 million being pledged over a three-year period, including $2.5 million contributed by a range of Jewish philanthropists. The additional $1 million was raised by PANIM’s outgoing board to provide scholarships for teens and their families who cannot afford to participate in programs. “We must never be in a position to turn away teens who want to make a difference in the world,” said Jerry Herman, former Chair of PANIM’s Board of Directors and founding chair of the PANIM Institute Committee. “The tireless work of PANIM's Board of Directors to raise these funds in a challenging economic time is an enthusiastic statement of support for the BBYO-PANIM combination and presents a unique opportunity to offer transformative programs for Jewish teens on a larger scale.” The donors of the remaining $2.5 million wish to remain anonymous.

“When I began PANIM twenty years ago, I envisioned an organization that would inspire Jewish youth to become agents of positive social change, and I am so proud of the work that’s been done,” said Rabbi Schwarz, who will continue to serve as senior consultant to the new entity. “Today’s teens are living in a new world. They face new challenges, but they are also armed with new opportunities to meet those challenges, particularly through the formation of grassroots movements fueled by technology. There is no Jewish organization that knows the teen audience better than BBYO. I am thrilled about the opportunities ahead for BBYO and PANIM.”

To read Panim founder Sid Schwarz’s op-ed in the JTA on the integration with BBYO, click here.

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