In his run-up to the GA, to be held next week in Washington, the Jerusalem Post’s Haviv Rettig spoke with the Jewish Federations of America’s top professional and lay leader, Jerry Silverman and Kathy Manning.
The story covers the federations’ plight in broad strokes. Silverman and Manning both say that the federation needs to rethink itself, from a revamping of the funding relationship between the American Jewish community and the federations’ overseas partners – the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel – to integrating young people and the organizations they run into the federation world.
AMONG THE first acts Silverman wants to lead in the federation system is a rethinking of the federations’ priorities outside the US.
"We need to clarify with our federations what our mission is overseas," he says. Once, the federations were a pillar of Israel’s survival. "In 1948, US Jews sent $250 million to Israel, when the entire state budget was just $500m.," notes Silverman.
The circumstances have changed, but the principle hasn’t. "World Jewry still needs to have an important connection to Israel today," he insists.
As for young people:
ONE OF American Jewry’s most pressing problems is ensuring that a new generation of young Jews grows up with the same charitable and communal commitments of their predecessors.
To do this, says Silverman, federations have to "communicate with an iPod culture that doesn’t look at the world the way we do. We grew up listening to entire record albums start to finish. These 18 to 30 year olds, sometimes called the ‘odyssey group,’ only listen to the songs they want, only download what they want to hear."
This youth culture means American Jewry will need new ways of plugging into communal life. In Silverman’s words, "there have to be many paths for entering this tent." The good news, he adds, is that many federations are already leading the way.