It was a joke at first, then a working title.
But as the project made its way from concept to official unveiling, the name “JData” stuck.
That’s JData, not to be confused with JDate, the Internet dating company infamous both for its popularity and for the creative license its users often employ in order to appear more attractive.
The new site, which will no doubt snag many a hit from typo-prone singles, is JDate’s less sexy, more practical, but perhaps equally ambitious sibling: a “groundbreaking online database that promises to revolutionize data management and sharing for Jewish communities and their education organizations,” according to a breathy press release issued last week.
Funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and developed by faculty at Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, the $1.5 million JData aims to be a clearinghouse for vital stats on the institutions serving Jewish day schools, supplemental schools, campus Hillels, day camps, overnight camps and early childhood education programs.
The hope is that the site will benefit researchers, journalists and policy makers as well as the programs themselves, enabling speedier information sharing and evaluation.
“This started out as a problem for researchers,” said Amy Sales, associate director of the Cohen Center, explaining that in doing Jewish communal studies, researchers and evaluators have long been frustrated that “tens of thousands of dollars were required” simply to assemble the contextual and background info, comparative data and basic information about a community, “before we could get to the main questions.”
“JData takes care of Step 1, so researchers can start with Step 2,” Sales said, introducing the new website at a Manhattan meeting last week for the press and key Jewish communal leaders.
Through JData, institutions will be able to share and update information on enrollment, budget, faculty size and a variety of other areas. But how to get participation? After all, Jewish institutions are notoriously territorial and secretive, often viewing other local groups as competitors rather than potential allies.
With JData, the more information you share, the more you are able to access about others; while details about specific institutions remain confidential, the aggregate data about a field and region will be available to all users.
In addition, by offering a platform for storing and retrieving one’s own data, particularly useful for small institutions with limited tech resources, JData “democratizes information management,” Sales said, enabling even the smallest organizations to more easily track their own statistics.
But in an age of terrorism, much of it directed at Jewish institutions, aren’t there security risks in having a central site on the Internet where, assuming JData’s organizers meet their goals, virtually every American Jewish school, camp, Hillel and synagogue is listed?
Sales acknowledged the potential risk, but noted that even without JData, it’s already easy to find most Jewish institutions through the Internet, with addresses, and in many cases financial reports, already public record.
“This comes down to how transparent does the Jewish community want to be about its infrastructure,” she told The Jewish Week. “We can’t both hide and at the same time fill desks and bunks.”