The Lion's Tale

Connection that lasts

CESJDS bolsters alumni outreach

Alumni browse old yearbooks at the Upper School campus at a February reunion.

Alumni browse old yearbooks at the Upper School campus at a February reunion.

Photo courtesy of Wendi Kaplan

Photo courtesy of Wendi Kaplan

Alumni browse old yearbooks at the Upper School campus at a February reunion.

Aliza Rabinovitz, In-Depth Editor

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Now in its 51st year, CESJDS has over 3,000 alumni spread out across the world. This growing network of graduates is continuously engaged through frequent communication and events.

There were two recent alumni events. On May 7, West Coast alumni and their families were invited to a meet-up on a beach in Santa Monica, Calif. On May 11, D.C. area alumni participated in a networking happy hour at a local restaurant. According to Associate Director of Alumni Relations Wendi Kaplan, these alumni events are opportunities for graduates to reconnect with old friends and are also assets to the school and its community.

Spring alumni events tend to tie into fundraising for the Ma’ayan fundraising campaign. Fall alumni events include the Head of School event, a thank you event where three alumni are also honored, and the Thanksgiving meet-and-greet, where alumni meet with each other and visit the Upper School campus and teachers.

Kaplan said that events such as the one on Thanksgiving are essential for alumni to keep their connection with JDS.

“We hear from a lot of alumni who can’t believe that we’re still doing certain things that we did long ago when they were here, but then they also find interesting things like the iLab, that’s brand new, and things like that, that have changed so much from the time that they were there,” Kaplan said.

While many alumni events take place locally, some occur in cities from New York to San Francisco. While there may not be an event in each major city every year, the school attempts to hold events around the U.S. as much as possible.

In addition to events, there are two alumni updates that go out every other month: the Alumni Spotlight and It’s Wednesday, an alumni newsletter. The spotlight features an alumnus who has gone on to do interesting work, and the newsletter highlights announcements such as children and marriages, upcoming events and pictures of past events.

The alumni network has increased in recent years. There is now an alumni advisory board of fifteen people, made up of alumni from various graduating years. This board acts as ambassadors for the school and attempts to connect various alumni. There are also chairs in each of the major cities across the country who try to help alumni who might be moving to that area.

“If you went to UCLA and graduate and stay in the area, we have co-chairs reach out to you as a way to say ‘welcome, we’re part of JDS, we’ve been living here for so long, we can try and help you get acclimated to the area,’” Kaplan said.

Alumna Dina Epstein (‘97) is a co-chair of the alumni advisory board. Epstein said that the focus of the board has been thinking of ways for alumni to engage with each other and with the larger JDS community.

One of these programs was a joint reunion that combined multiple graduating classes. According to Epstein, reunions had been something alumni had done on their own with no involvement from the school. The Mega Reunion Schmooze-a-Palooza, on the other hand, connected alumni of various classes with each other and made them “feel like a part of the larger JDS community,” Epstein said.

“We made it a much broader, more inclusive event, so that it didn’t just feel like you were catching up with your old friends from high school, but that you were reconnecting with JDS,” Epstein said.

Alumna Haley Cohen (‘12) attended the reunion, which took place in February, with some of her JDS friends. Cohen said that one of the reasons they decided to go was because they wanted to reconnect to people with whom they had not stayed in touch since high school and find out about everyone’s current lives.

Aside from the alumni from her year, Cohen found it a nice surprise to have the chance to see and socialize with some of her former teachers. She also liked that the reunion combined multiple graduating classes so she could meet people from other years.
As an alumna of the school, it is important for Cohen to stay involved with JDS.

“I think it was such a big part of my life for 12 years, and especially now that I’ve just recently graduated college, it’s important to me to stay connected with my peers and the people I grew up with,” Cohen said. “So, by going to alumni events, it’s a really good way to see people and to stay involved in the community.”

According to Epstein, the goal of the alumni board is to remind alumni about this community and what is so “amazing” about JDS. She described how one new member of the board was convinced after only a few meetings to enroll his kids at JDS because he was reconnected with the school and the school’s mission.

From the school’s perspective, alumni act as school ambassadors, potential parents and community members who can support the school in its endeavors or provide out-of-school connections to current students. Epstein feels that alumni who have benefited from their Jewish educations have the duty to invest in the school and grant the same opportunities to future generations. For Epstein, involved alumni should also “take the gift they received at JDS and [pay] them forward.”

“Alumni span the globe and number in the thousands and are a really valuable resource for the school but also a really valuable resource for each other,” Epstein said.

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