The Winner of the 2023 Ilia Salita Excellence in Research Award Announced at the JFN International Conference in Phoenix, Arizona

The award, recognizing rigorous research that informs the work of Jewish funders and nonprofits, was given to a pioneering study in the field of Jewish education.

The 2023 Ilia Salita Excellence in Research Award (ERA) was presented to Dr. Arielle Levites and the Collaborative for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE) for their landmark study titled Career Trajectories of Jewish Educators in the United States.

The Ilia Salita ERA was created by Genesis Philanthropy Group (GPG) in honor of its beloved long-time CEO and President Ilia Salita z”l, who was a passionate proponent of informed, data-driven philanthropy. The $15,000 prize, facilitated by the Jewish Funders Network (JFN), recognizes applied research projects that are innovative in approach, rigorous in methodology, focused on issues affecting Jewish communities, while also being directly applicable to the work of funders and implementing organizations.

The second annual award presentation took place on March 20th, 2023, during the JFN International Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Members of the Salita family – Ilia’s wife Irina and their two sons, Robert and Joshua, - presented the 2023 Ilia Salita ERA to Dr. Arielle Levites, Managing Director of CASJE. Dr. Levites accepted the award on behalf of the entire research team, including Dr. Michael Feuer, Dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development and Professor of Education Policy at George Washington University, who was the Principal Investigator for the study.

Dr. Levites and CASJE’s team were honored for their comprehensive examination of a field critical to the success of a broad swath of Jewish programming. In looking at the opportunities and challenges faced by Jewish educators, the study raises issues affecting both the professionals themselves and a wide range of institutions engaged in Jewish education. The Career Trajectories research was designed to provide applicable knowledge about the recruitment, retention, and professional development of Jewish educators. It represents the first systematic effort in more than fifteen years to collect data about the Jewish education workforce in the United States. The project was selected from a pool of highly competitive applicants for its practical results, excellent methodology, and vital subject matter.

Watch a webinar in which Arielle Levites discusses CASJE's research and its implications for funders.

“A study like this is truly a team sport,” said Dr. Levites. “The Career Trajectories study represents the efforts of a number of critical partners including the William Davidson Foundation and Jim Joseph Foundation, the CASJE advisory board, a special committee of advisors from Jewish education and general education research convened specifically to support this study, the excellent research team, the eight communities and various program partners that helped us recruit participants, and the many educational leaders that helped us think through the implications of the findings for practice and policy. CASJE's work doesn't stop with the publication of a study. We certainly care deeply about the production of high-quality research but we also care about high-quality research use. Our mission is to harness research-evidence to improve Jewish education.”

Barry Finestone, President and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation, was excited to learn about the award. “The landmark CASJE study provides a rich picture of Jewish educators today and the need for continued investments in talented, well-trained Jewish educators for the future. It’s deeply gratifying to see the study receive this award and be associated with Ilia’s incredible legacy.” Barry Finestone added, “Ilia was a champion of rigorous research to advance Jewish education, a trusted partner to the Foundation and a dear friend.” 

Alan Cooperman, Pew Research Center’s Director of Religion Research, praised the winning project, "The CASJE study stands out for its deft blending of qualitative and quantitative methods, clear and at times even beautiful writing, and forceful yet balanced presentation of findings."

“We are thrilled that this year’s Ilia Salita ERA is honoring Dr. Levites and the CASJE team for their exceptional work and dedication to improving Jewish education,” said Marina Yudborovsky, CEO of GPG. “This study is an excellent example of how applied research can inform and help improve a field.”

In addition to the monetary award and the ceremony at the JFN International Conference, the Career Trajectories of Jewish Educators study will also be presented to funders and Jewish professionals at a webinar hosted by JFN in the coming months. Through this and other opportunities, CASJE will continue, as Dr. Levites said, “to work with Jewish educational-leaders across all sectors and geographic regions in the United States to think about what the study findings can illuminate about their contexts and concerns and work together to generate research-based, actionable ideas for the field.”