Between sips and schmoozing, a dose of local Jewish history



History isn’t just for the classroom. Young Jewish professionals are adding tech savvy activism and personal flair to teach the legacy of local Jewish communities to their peers.


At last month’s Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Denver, the Rocky Mountain Schmooze event sponsored by JFNA and the ROI Community offered a drink on the house and a couple of 5-minute doses of history about Jewish communities,

Jeremy Burton, recently hired as executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston, opened with a call to activism entitled "The New Influencers: Going Gonzo with Community Relations." Burton’s powerpoint presentation (check it out below) was rich with anecdotes about Jewish activism, beginning with the first slide, a black and white photo of a Soviet Jewry rally that featured Burton in a stroller.

"I’ve spent a lifetime as a Jewish activist," said Burton in his opening. "When I was a child, my parents taught me that it was possible for young people to come together and create a movement for Soviet Jewry, representing the best spirit of the Jewish people."

Burton explained that the CRC of Boston, which historically has sought to build relationships with "defined leaders" in the community. was born in response to anti-semitic events in America during World War II, such as housing discrimination, attacks in nearby Dorchester and the nationally broadcast radio program of Father Charles Coughlin.

Citing the growth of social media, Burton believes that in order to stay relevant, Jewish organizations need "to expand from targeting the old influential to including the new ones."

The latter includes a much broader constituency who share their voices online. On one slide, Burton flashed a screenshot of the Twitter stream of "Occupy Judaism," a Jewish group that identifies with the months-old Occupy Wall Street movement.

"The student struggle for Soviet Jewry pushed and shaked our communal agenda from the bottom up in the late ’60’s," Burton reflected. "Today, ‘Occupy’ efforts are also being driven, but through Twitter."

In order to keep up with the inncreasingly social community, Burton suggested that Jews need to lend their voices to online social media. "Don’t be afraid to conversation on Facebook that we have at our Shabbat table," he implored the audience.

Talia Davis, marketing manager of the Allied Jewish Federations of Colorado, gave a fast-paced presentation called "Going for Gold: How the Jews Came to Denver and Why They Stayed" (also below) that was as vibrant as her hair is red. Coming from a family that appreciates genealogy — she is a direct descendant of medieval rabbis Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam) and Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (Rashi) — this Jewish communal professional has used history as a means to excite her about her work.

"You have to find the thing that makes you passionate," Davis told JTA. "For me it’s history. I love looking at old pictures; that’s a big deal for me. It’s a passion for me," she asserted.

Davis obtained photos for her presentation from the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society. Among them was an old picture of a mining town with a store sign that reads "D. May & Co.", the Denver-based predecessor of Macy’s Department Store. 

"I just find it so fascinating how this pioneer town became such a booming metropolis," marveled Davis.

Davis’s passion for history has led her to participate in volunteer events that serve the local Jewish elderly. "I consider them an underserved population," she lamented.

"I think that the most important point is that we have to remember that we are a community," she said. "No matter what way you give back, you give; it’s vital to survival of the Jewish community that you’re an active part of the community."

If you crank up your speakers, you can view the slideshows synced with actual audio from the event. With a beverage in hand and a few friends around, it’s the next best thing to having been there. (Hat tip to Rocky Mountain Schmooze coordinators Esther Kustanowitz and Andy Neusner for compiling media.)

Watch Talia Davis’s "Going for Gold: How the Jews Came to Denver and Why They Stayed" and Jeremy Burton’s "The New Influencers: Going Gonzo with Community Relations" below.



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