Dr. Arielle Levites is the Executive Director of the Collaborative for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE). CASJE is an evolving community of researchers, practitioners, and philanthropic leaders dedicated to improving the quality of knowledge that can be used to guide the work of Jewish education. CASJE supports research shaped by the wisdom of practice, practice guided by research, and philanthropy informed by a sound base of evidence.

Dr. Levites’ research focuses on contemporary American Jewish education. She has conducted a number of applied studies on behalf of American Jewish educational enterprises, with a focus on young adults and teens. Her work has been recognized with awards from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Network for Research in Jewish Education. Her manuscript, Raising Jewish Spirits: American Jews, Religious Emotion, and American Spirituality (under advance contract) is based on an ethnographic study of contemporary American Jewish spiritual practitioners.

Dr. Levites has served as the Golda Och Postdoctoral Fellow at the Jewish Theological Seminary, a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, a visiting assistant professor at Hebrew College in the Shoolman Graduate School, and an affiliated scholar at Brandeis University’s Mandel Center. She holds a BA from Brown University in Religious Studies, a MSEd in Religious Education from the University of Pennsylvania, and a PhD from NYU in Education and Jewish Studies. She is an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, as a Davidson Scholar.

Putting Research to Good Use


In 2021, CASJE (the Collaborative for Applied Studies in Jewish Education) released the Career Trajectories of Jewish Educators Study, which sought to understand the recruitment, retention and development of Jewish educators in the United States. Among the many findings in this multi-strand study, we learned that a distinguishing feature of people who launch careers in Jewish education is that they are mission-driven. Jewish educators come to their work to make a difference in the world.

But how do we know if our work is making the positive change we want to see? Research evidence can be a critical input for understanding who we work with, how our educational programs are functioning, and what outcomes they produce.

Research Evidence vs. Data

You may notice that I made a little move there just now, shifting from the term “data,” which is the focus of this issue, to the term “research evidence,” which is the focus of CASJE’s work. I think of data as collected information. Data can be processed or organized to make sense of phenomena but, in my mind, data are essentially inert. Data doesn’t do or say anything on its own. Data needs to be interpreted.

Research is a systematic way of collecting and analyzing data with the aim of answering questions, and research evidence is what is produced from that process. Data is all around us, but without a question in mind and disciplined way of sifting data to generate answers and insights, it’s not necessarily useful.

It’s Hard to Be “Data-driven”

We live in a time where being “data-driven” is commonly seen as a positive attribute in the professional world. Everyone says they want to be “evidence-based.” At CASJE, we have come to appreciate that being a data-driven and evidence-based Jewish educational leader is not an easy or straightforward undertaking.

For one thing, Jewish educational leaders often don’t have access to research evidence that was produced with Jewish educational questions and concerns in mind. Even with the efforts of CASJE, the Prizmah Knowledge Center, The Journal of Jewish Education, the Mandel Center and others, there just isn’t all that much research production in Jewish education, such that it can be hard to find relevant research studies to consult. Often research that might be useful is behind a paywall.

Even when Jewish educational leaders can access research, it’s often not communicated in ways that are easy to understand. On one hand, an article may be pitched to an academic reader with a lot of jargon and technical terms that aren’t explained with a professional audience in mind. On the other hand, the findings may be reported though the filter of a news story or social media that makes it hard to ascertain what the researchers actually said or on what evidence they based their claims.

Finally, research evidence only sometimes will perfectly and unambiguously answer our questions. More often it frames new ways of thinking and possibilities for action without telling us exactly what to do. Research evidence needs to be further interpreted with careful consideration for the particular contexts in which educational leaders work. Further, educational leaders need to account for how any interventions these interpretations suggest can be meaningfully implemented in their own programs.

Focusing on Use

When CASJE was founded, we initially focused on developing high-quality research evidence. Now our mission has widened such that we also focus on high-quality use of research evidence. To that end, and with direction from a host of much valued practitioner-leaders in Jewish education who have shared their needs and perspectives with us, we have begun to develop new tools to support educators in their efforts to use data and research evidence to improve the work they do. These tools include a research digest, a research use fellowship for practitioners (launching January 23), a discussion guide for talking about research with colleagues, and free consultations for mission-aligned organizations with questions about research and research use.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that research use isn’t just something people do, it’s something people can study as well. The last ten years have seen increasing attention to research into the use of research, that is research that examines how decision-makers use research to shape practice and policy. At CASJE, we have been following this line of inquiry to help us frame our own efforts to strengthen the capacity of Jewish educational leaders to use research to fuel improvements in Jewish education.

Many of the pilot initiatives introduced above are also serving as learning labs for CASJE to begin to develop a formal body of knowledge about how Jewish communal leaders think about and use research. Our questions include, How do Jewish educational leaders define research? How do they access research? What mindsets and skills do they bring to their assessment of research? What are the ways research shapes their thinking and activities? How can relationships between researchers and practitioners help foster more high-quality research that is useful and used?

As we pilot these new initiatives and begin to learn more about the use of research evidence in Jewish education, we look forward to hearing from you, both about how you are using our tools and how you are using research more generally in your work.

Suggested resources those interested in learning more about research use: