Like the similarly sounding JDate, JData busies itself with Jewish continuity. But rather than play virtual shadchan to young Jewish professionals in the hopes that they end up on the New York Times wedding page (and later have circumcised baby boys), JData, a project funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and developed by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, is trying to make the collection and analysis of data from Jewish day schools, supplementary programs (i.e., Hebrew schools), overnight and day camps, and campus Hillel houses more transparent and readily available to Jewish institutions, large and small (access to the database is free). They hope this will help both institutions and researchers better identify trends and allocate resources for the future.
The launch event, which was Friday at the Brandeis House on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, featured two of my favorite things: Punctuality and food. Instead of utilizing the survey model, JData allows organizations to upload their basic information—such as enrollment numbers and expenditures per pupil—and quickly receive reports answering specific questions. JData also allows an organization to compare its data to the rest of the community (though this information appears as an aggregate to protect privacy).
Dr. Leonard Saxe, the director of the Cohen Center, acknowledged that the greatest challenge “would be getting people and institutions to comply,” and pool their resources. In other areas of public, he noted, you have institutions such as the Department of Health that collect basic data on their sector as part of their mission. “In our bifurcated—I can’t even say bifurcated—trifurcated, rainbow world of Jewish education,” he explained, “we don’t have the infrastructure to collect even the most basic, simple information.” JData is an attempt to go back to the fundamentals.
In addition to the obvious benefits that could be reaped by schools, camps, and foundations, Saxe and Dr. Amy Sales, the associate director, believe JData will also serve the research and journalism communities. Instead of starting at square one and investing hours and money into figuring out basic contextual information, such as how many people are in a given population, they can skip ahead and start answering the interesting questions.
The project, which has a tab of $1.5 million and counting, is obviously only as good as the data that is put in. To ensure the veracity of the information in the system, Sales said that they do “search for improbable values,” and contact organizations that might have erred in their profiles. If only JDate could do the same! How great would it be to have actual confirmation of the height of the “5’10”” Jewish man you’re considering, or if he actually does “work hard and play hard” and “live life to the fullest.”