Back to the (Jewish) Future: The Six Demands of the Next Generation of Lay Leadership
by Ben Wiener
[Earlier this month, I was named one of the two winners of the 2011 Jewish Futures Competition, sponsored by the Jewish Education Project and JESNA's Lippman Kanfer Institute. As part of the competition, my winning video was shown at the Jewish Futures Conference held at the GA in Denver this past week, and I also presented my venture (tenpartners.org) and my view of the Jewish Future. Here are my remarks.]
I’ve been asked to give my view of the Jewish Future. Now I’m not a prophet but it seems to me that at least with regard to young lay leadership the Jewish Future does not look good.
You know as well as I do that the numbers are headed in the wrong direction. The Federation had a donor base in North America of 1 million people a few decades ago and it’s less than half that today. This summer, while I was a PresenTense Global Fellow we heard first-hand from Natan Sharansky, that over 500 more young Jews per day no longer consider themselves affiliated with Judaism.
Young lay leadership in the Jewish Future is broken and headed for disaster.
Now, lots of people are talking about “engaging” the next generation. People in Federations are signing up to learn how to speak Twitter. But seriously – how do you do this engagement thing, practically?
We need something revolutionary. And like every good revolution, our revolution begins with a list of demands. That’s right, my generation and those younger than me have a list of demands. If you, the organized Jewish Communities want us to get involved, you need to meet our needs and demands.
Now I know what you’re thinking: Demands? Who the heck do you think you are? Well, look in the mirror. Jewish communities aren’t getting any younger. At some point in the Jewish Future you will need to bring us, the next generation, into the family business. You will need us to be engaged, and involved as the next generation of leadership minding the store. And to do that you’ll need to get us into the store. So here are our six demands:
- We actually want to work with you. We come in peace. Hey, we’re a great revolution because we’re nonviolent. We’re not trying to overthrow anyone. We want to work with existing communal institutions – just find a way to get us involved, and nobody gets hurt.
- No Meetings: We cannot do meetings. Our schedules are too crazy. We are a generation of sound bytes. We communicate in 140 characters for G-d’s sake, not in agendas. We don’t meet, we tweet.
- Non-denomination. Plurality. We need to have our own voice and make an impact our way. We want to be invested in our own creative ideas, not advance someone else’s mandates or agenda.
- We’re going to need to be able to make an impact regardless of the amount of money we individually contribute. We modern-day Montefiore’s are high on creativity, but sometimes low on capital.
- We need to be involved in things that are financially sustainable. Our generation embraces sustainability as a philosophy, as a core value, not just as some kind of marketing gimmick. And finally …
- Our involvement depends on technology. You need to weave Jewish communal service into our technology, not wrestle our technology into your Jewish communal service.
So how do we fix the lay leadership problem in the Jewish Future before it happens? As one of my colleagues, Ana Fuchs said this summer at PresenTense, “it’s time for an upgrade.” We need to upgrade to Jewish Communal Service 2.0.
What is Jewish Communal Service 2.0? Well, like any program, there are different versions. I’ll give you a quick example of the tenpartners version of Jewish Communal Service 2.0.
Let’s say Matt, Pat and Jane get together to form a tenpartnership in their local Jewish community. They reach out through their friends and get others to join, hopefully representing a cross-denominational group. When they get ten people to commit, each of them seeds a local bank account that they control, with an equal and reasonable amount of money, for example $1,000 each. (Ten is based on the concept of a minyan, and also on the Hebrew word “ten,” to give.)
Then the ten partners start to evaluate and discuss programs for their local Jewish community using tenpartners’ custom-designed technology platform. Projects or events must do two things: 1) educate through experience, promoting Jewish experiences and values via events like lectures, concerts, Jewish internet cafe? night, etc., and 2) each project must have a revenue model. The participants from the community must pay to participate. Communal programs don’t have to be free. So in our model, the partnership’s money underwrites a program, and then comes back to the partnership through the revenue collected, and then cycles back in to the community via another program, and back, and so on, and so on.
What’s awesome is that this model meets all of our demands.
- Partnerships – the ten partners need to reach out and work with existing communal institutions to run successful programs.
- No meetings. All tenpartners activity runs off your iPhone or email. No meetings. You can be a tenpartner from the comfort of your couch at 2 am.
- It’s nondenominational and fosters creative ideas. Anyone, including other partners, me, you, other people in the community can suggest programs or events to a tenpartnership, but the ten partners ultimately decide what to do. Nobody else tells them what programs to run; they do what they think is best for their local community.
- It offers an equal voice at the virtual table. Each tenpartner has the same “say” and the same ability to have an impact.
- It’s sustainable. The partners seed the account once and then it can stay evergreen, creating new programs for years, without any new money. No need to put in more money, nobody asking for further donations, ever. Isn’t that refreshing? And …
- It’s based on technology. Our simple, custom-built collaboration platform fits in to the way we manage our information in real life.
Our model doesn’t recreate the wheel – it adds a new one. We’re not suggesting that we throw out the Federation model – rather, we’re creating a new layer that extends the reach of current institutions.
It engages young Jews where they are, out on the periphery, and brings them into the family business on their terms. It creates an easy-entry, entry-level layer of lay leadership engagement that gets them into Jewish communal service. Hopefully some of them will “graduate” from tenpartnerships into other types of institutional lay leadership afterwards.
The Jewish Futures Conference is primarily about education. We believe that education is experiential. If we are successful in rolling out our tenpartners Jewish Communal Service 2.0 model across the country and around the word, we will engage and empower hundreds of new lay leaders, who will create thousands of new educational experiences, that will touch tens or hundreds of thousands of people in their communities, all with a financially sustainable business model. It’s remarkable, yet amazingly practical and simple.
So what do we need from you? We need you to download the upgrade to Jewish Communal Service 2.0. It’s not as easy as clicking a button, but its close. You just need to work with us, support us. Open your doors and let us in to the family business. You have a lot of experience, wisdom and resources to offer us, and we have tons of young, dynamic and energetic people we can bring to the table as the next generation of young Jewish lay leaders.
That’s practical “engagement”. That’s Jewish Communal Service 2.0. And that’s how we can work together to create the next generation of Jewish lay leadership, and start fixing the Jewish Future – today.
Ben Wiener is President of Portofino Equity Advisors, a private equity company. He is also the founder of tenpartners, an innovative Jewish nonprofit start-up. A former corporate lawyer, Ben also clerked on Israel’s Supreme Court before leaving legal practice for a business career. Ben earned a B.A. from Yeshiva University, and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. He lives with his wife and children in Jerusalem.