Check out the discourse on JTA’s Op-ed page between four young active Jews concerned about their place in the federation system and Jerry Silverman, the new CEO of the federation’s umbrella organization, the UJC.
Four concerned Jews who recently participated in the Schusterman Foundation’s Kivun Intensive said that the federation system is in dire danger of losing them:
It’s no secret that the mention of federation is often met with blank stares among 20-something Jews.
You’re far less likely to find young Jewish adults today who consider the North American Jewish federation system an energizer of Jewish life than those who associate it with bureaucracy and irrelevance. Dishing out banter on federation is a pastime for Jewish communal professionals, both young and seasoned.
But as part of a generation hoping to effect change in the Jewish community, we’d like to offer a shift in discourse.
But instead of asking the system to shape its agenda to try to include young Jews, they suggest that the federations allow them to shape their agenda themselves.
They have four suggestions that are expanded in the Op-ed:
1. Invest in startups. If federations are not creators of new programs but rather enablers of Jewish life, they should support Jewish startups that need infrastructure assistance.
2. Create seats for young Jews on federation boards. Instead of reserving a symbolic seat for a young board member, federations should embrace younger recruits and give them full voting privileges. Current board members might “sponsor” young adult board members’ seats, or younger board members might be allowed to make what is, for them, a meaningful gift rather than a minimum donation.
Alternatively, federations could cultivate a future fundraising force through young adult board membership. A board whose voting members reflect varied experience only enriches conversations and nurtures lay leaders who will advance federation for decades to come.
3. Involve younger Jews as members of planning and allocations committees. Let these committees oversee allocations for programs that are spearheaded by young Jews to serve young Jewish demographics. Many federations are now redefining their priorities, and young Jews leaders should be among the first people consulted.
Bridging the generational divide by inviting Gen-X Jews to join the conversation — as opposed to being talked about or allocated for — is exactly the role that federation should play.
4. Meet young Jews where they’re at. Find us! We’re in independent minyanim, non-religious community centers, activist circles and in arts & culture movements. We move frequently but, no matter where we are, most of us are on Facebook, Twitter and email.
Silverman offered his response, namely that he agrees in full:
UJC and the federation system need to further harness the creativity, commitment and care of our young people. Many are not involved in the organized Jewish community, yet are contributing invaluably with new ideas and hard work. As I’ve talked with many young people across North America, it has become abundantly clear that we as a system have an opportunity to further engage and empower them, and support their efforts to break paradigms and set the course for the future.
It is clear that younger Jews want to help shape our system and our communal future. They have many ideas but often feel our system doesn’t let them in, or their input is not taken seriously. Before all else, we need to reframe the terms so that young people never feel as though they are outsiders.
Let’s work together closely as we move forward. We need to welcome our young adult Jews, listen to what they have to say and invite them to be valued partners.
We need to encourage young people to become involved with their federations by volunteering, by contributing and by becoming lay leaders. Opportunity cannot be open only to those individuals who have means. Creativity, community service and insight are critical success factors for our future.
And he takes it another step, saying that the conversation must start not just within the halls of the UJC and the federations, but with the young folks who feel alienated.
We must go further. The first step is to convene a group of young people to begin a dialogue on how to create systemic readiness to embrace and engage and listen as we move forward. We must create an opportunity for both dialogue and action, locally and nationally.
We truly appreciate this challenge, which is a serious first step…