Category: Jewish Organizations


…if we want real institutional change, all areas of the Jewish community should seek to foster young leadership. In every commencement speech, we hear youth described as our future. This is most certainly true, and, yet, Jewish organizations are loath to act on that dictum. The reason is obvious: No one wants to be usurped and declared redundant, so we hang on, in many cases, as long as possible, and keep the young aspirants for Jewish communal life at bay.

Edgar M. Bronfman and Beth Zasloff, Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 177.

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…let’s redirect funds used for fighting anti-Semitism toward Jewish renaissance programs. I have publicly stated that it is a waste of the Jewish tax dollar to spend so much money on so-called defense organizations. Anti-Semitism in this country is, for all practical purposes, dead. Yes, there are incidents, but we live in a racist world, and there will always be graffiti and random insults from deranged, sick people. They are a small minority.

Edgar M. Bronfman and Beth Zasloff, Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 175.

Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) can also be an important part of the renaissance, as they are positioned to connect with Jews who are not otherwise involved in Jewish life. When the JCC movement began in the mid-nineteenth century with the creation of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA), it served as a central resource for Jewish immigrants and a place or celebrations within the new Jewish communities in North America. Today, people go to JCCs for their gyms, art classes, nursery schools, and day camps. JCCs must now make Jewish education, culture, and identity a central part of their mission.

Edgar M. Bronfman and Beth Zasloff, Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 172-173.

Traditional Jewish institutions must seek guidance from creative young leaders, and some have begun to do so. Young Jews are finding ways to be Jewish outside of traditional Jewish institutions, but that does not mean we have to battle for who controls Jewish life….
We need to cultivate this spirit of openness and exchange between new efforts and traditional Jewish institutions. Both are important for the renaissance. While there is exuberant energy outside the established Jewish community, there are tremendous financial, structural, and human resources in our large institutions. These resources can, and should, be used to educate and empower our youth. While change may happen more quickly in new efforts, existing organizations are capable of making a significant difference in Jewish life if they are willing to adapt to the conditions of the twenty-first century. They need to reach out to young people and invite their ideas and their leadership.

Edgar M. Bronfman and Beth Zasloff, Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 167-168.

If institutions are performing their mission well, and their mission is still relevant, they will thrive. If either of these is not the case, let’s not put them on life support. American Judaism is in need of revival now, and it behooves us to look to whatever energy is coming forward and encourage it without the constant check on how it will or won’t support an existing institution.

Elie Kaunfer, “The Real Crisis in American Judaism”, The Jewish Week (7 April 2010), 14.

The days when Jewish institutions could count on people showing up are over. The days when newcomers to a community could be counted on to look for a school for their kids, a local market for food, and a synagogue to join are over. The days when a Federation could count on the vast majority of Jews to give a gift are over. The days when a Jewish Community Center was actually the center of the community are over. In this new reality, another program will not meet the need of the moment. If Jewish organizations are to survive and thrice, what they offer will need to change dramatically…and soon.

Jewish institutions must rethink their value proposition. If the “value” offer is a calendar of programs, access to Jewish information, gyms, pools, health clubs, cultural events, even activities to “repair the world”, our people can get all that for much less money than the high cost of Jewish institutional affiliation. But, if our value proposition is the opportunity to be in face-to-face meaningful relationship with Jews and Judaism in a relational community that offers a path to meaning and purpose, belonging and blessing, we have a shot at engaging our people….

Dr. Ron Wolfson, Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2013), 32.

Professionals work out a price for a project, agree to the terms and then an organization renegotiates and offers less or keeps adding to the scope of the project without adding to the payment. Organizations offer what they call “standard” fees when they actually pay different fees depending on the speaker, sometimes offering less, often if the professional is a woman. Educators and consultants finish presenting and are told, “We don’t cut checks for five weeks after the conference/lecture/weekend.” Really? Should this young rabbi have waited five weeks to give the talk?

Organizations often negotiate fees as if in a shuk. It is undignified and unprofessional. If you have to “remind” organizations to pay multiple times, it is embarrassing and disrespectful. A young woman shared that she felt so uncomfortable about this that she was willing to go without payment just to make the bad feeling go away. This, too, is a form of oppression.

We have to learn to take the sting out of conversations about money. The one who hires must bring up payment right away and create uniformity and consistency around payment policies. Payment should be rendered upon completion of services, not weeks or months later. Forget manning-up. It’s time to mensch-up.

Erica Brown, “Pay Today”, The Jewish Week (3 January 2014), 46.