The Pearlstone Coalition for Jewish Family Education
In 1991, the Pearlstone Institute dedicated the bulk of its annual income to the concept of Jewish Family Education, spending over $1.25 million dollars over ten years. The Pearlstone Coalition for Jewish Family Education succeeded beyond expectations, and was cited nationwide for its innovative design and tangible results. The Jack Pearlstone Institute for Living Judaism fulfilled its founding challenge to promote and nurture Judaism. It had a significant impact on the Baltimore Jewish community and contributed enormously to the educational, intellectual, and experiential life of its constituents. One major consequence of the Institute’s success was a demand for an actual conference/retreat center.
The Pearlstone conference and Retreat Center
Proposal and Planning Process
In 1997, The ASSOCIATED asked Josh Fidler to chair an Advisory Board and an intensive feasibility study for a new Conference/Retreat Center facility designed to nurture Jewish living and learning. After a year of study, Josh submitted a formal proposal to the Board of The ASSOCIATED which set forth the findings and recommendations of the Advisory Board to indeed go forward with the creation of a Center. Following is an excerpt from that document.
“As we approach a new century and millennium, we are concerned about the status of moral values and behavior in our civilization. Judaism has provided a system of order, meaning, and ideals that has benefited mankind for thousands of years. Especially today, in this era of instant gratification, global electronic communication, and pop culture, Judaism has crucial and relevant lessons to teach about human interaction and responsibility.
“Our greatest challenge is to find effective and relevant ways of integrating Jewish values into our everyday lives and conveying our rich Jewish heritage to our children, grandchildren and succeeding generations. The Pearlstone Family Retreat Center has been proposed to address these needs.
“The “retreat format” with its emphasis on experiential learning and doing, family education, and total immersion, is a successful medium for the building of community and the transmission of Jewish behavior and values. There has been a growing demand by congregations, religious schools, youth groups, adult and elder continuing education groups in Baltimore, for an appropriate setting in which to conduct retreats that will renew and deepen the Jewish experience.
“We view the most effective retreat experience as one that builds upon, depends, and enhances already established relationships and communities. Retreats can provide transformational moments at particular points along the continuum of Jewish life. But the key word is continuum. We have a wealth of vibrant Jewish institutions and gifted teachers and rabbis in Baltimore. Through education, the provision of materials and resources, consultation and collaboration, The Pearlstone Institute has nurtured a cadre of people within our local congregations, institutions, and agencies, who are able to create and deliver highly-effective programming that is personalized to their group’s needs. After the Retreat Center is built, The Pearlstone Institute will continue to support these institutions’ efforts to create and facilitate their own retreats.
Development and Implementation Period
With the approval of The ASSOCIATED Board, the Advisory Board assumed the responsibility for fundraising and construction of the facility. Josh Fidler continued to provide dedicated and outstanding leadership for the entire process.
In 1999, Richard Pearlstone a committed a sizable portion of The Jack Pearlstone Institute corpus toward the creation of The Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center and invited other visionary families and foundations in the community to join him in its development.
Those accepting his invitation were as follows:
The Jack Pearlstone Institute for Living Judaism
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation
Nathan L. and Suzanne F. Cohen Philanthropic Fund
Charles Crane Foundation
The Macks and Fidler Families
Goldsmith Family Foundation
The Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund
The Plant Families
Steve and Toni Sandler Foundation
Joseph Smelkinson Foundation
The Aaron Straus and Lillie Straus Foundation
Louis B. and Annie Suskin Memorial Fund
Pearlstone opened its doors in 2001 but only became its own 501c3 organization with its own Board of Directors in 2005 (prior to that it operated as a Program of the Associated).
In 2006, Pearlstone launched Kayam Farm, an educational farm that provides a beautiful backdrop for retreat groups, but that also attracts local Jewish schools and exposes students to the deep connections between Judaism, agriculture, and social justice. In addition, the farm is common ground for individuals, groups, and families to connect with people from other cultures, backgrounds, and faith traditions. Pearlstone now has the most active Jewish educational farm in North America, engaging over 5,000 participants annually in dynamic and inspirational Jewish environmental education through field trips, volunteering, summer camp, celebrations, workshops, service learning programs, community gardening, and multicultural programming. Our farm includes five acres of cropland and two acres of animal pasture. We have also created several special Jewish educational gardens such as The Hebrew Calendar Garden and The Alef Beit Garden. Farm produce goes to CSA members (Community Supported Agriculture), the Pearlstone kitchen, local restaurants, and 10% is tithed to local charities, both Jewish and secular. This dynamic space and accompanying programming are created by a fantastic, talented team of four farmers and five educators, combining interests and experience in farming, ecology and sustainability with advanced degrees in Jewish education.
In the fall and winter of 2011-12, Pearlstone undertook a strategic planning process, the outcome of which was to closer align the work of the retreat center with the farm and Jewish education mission of what was then known as Kayam Farm. In 2012, we dropped the “Kayam Farm” name and became a more holistic entity known as the Pearlstone Center.
The Pearlstone Center can only be described as a success. We are currently serving approximately 15,000 visitors each year. Seventy percent of retreat groups come from Jewish organizations. In addition, Pearlstone has become an important vehicle for community relations with the general faith and non-profit communities and government agencies. The warm, welcoming Jewish ambience at Pearlstone has provided a real and tangible “face” of the Jewish community for these groups. And the farm and program departments at Pearlstone are on the cutting edge of Jewish education, and have been recognized in 2011, 2012, and 2013 as one of the 50 most innovative Jewish organizations in North America.