Federations and Jewish Education: Learning from History So We Don’t Repeat It

Rabbi Scott Aaron We often do not know we are at important points in history until that point has passed. And, as often as not, we tend to sigh and say “if we only knew then what we know now.” The U.S. Jewish community is in the midst of just such a moment and, unlike so many other moments, we have the benefit of hindsight to inform how we capitalize on the opportunity. Namely, the Jewish education field and the federation system have an opportunity to once again truly partner in modernizing and innovating educational services for the community at large. Over the last 80 or so years, the relationship between Federations and Jewish Education often has been perceived as a tug-of-war; polar opposites struggling over control of a communal lifeline. However, this relationship has not always been … [Read more...]

Krakow: A Bright Spot In Jewish Europe, Just an Hour’s Drive From Auschwitz

By Jonathan Ornstein As the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Centre of Krakow, I’m a very rare species of Jewish communal leader in Europe today: one who can say it’s easier, safer and better every day to be Jewish in his community. Our situation in Poland seems to be the polar opposite of that in France. French Jews must carefully weigh whether it is safe to go to synagogue or to wear a kippah in public while we feel none of those safety concerns in Krakow. Every day young people stand up to be counted and reconnect to the Jewish community - excited by the prospect of learning more about their family history, the potential to start their own Jewish journey and also to become part of a revitalized and dynamic community. The level of anti-Semitism in Poland today is debatable (in my … [Read more...]

The Killing Fields of Europe: Then and Now

The main gate at the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau death camp. Credit: Angelo Celedon via Wikimedia Commons.

By Eliana Rudee JNS.org Earlier this month, while four Jews were being murdered at a kosher supermarket in Paris, I was visiting the concentration camps Majdanek and Auschwitz II-Birkenau for the first time with a Jewish group of young entrepreneurs and leaders. As expected, what I saw and learned was haunting and devastating. What humans are capable of doing to others is simply incomprehensible and makes one question the nature of humanity, especially walking through a concentration camp - the 20th century’s most profound symbol of the world’s attempt to annihilate the Jewish people. Haunting me throughout the tour was the thought that I would be able to exit the camp so easily, while my ancestors only dreamed of exiting, and what was the message for me? What am I to think when leaving the … [Read more...]

Orthodox Organizations Step Up, Federations Stand Down.

By Joshua Sotomayor-Einstein Approximately 6 years ago a top leader in the New York City Jewish federation came to Hoboken to see the regions then only Moishe House first hand. When, at the end of the meeting, the federation leader was asked if they would fund the Hoboken Moishe House the answer was the standard "it's not in our catchment area." For years the Jewish community in Hoboken and Jersey City has been hearing this statement from local area federations. For years those involved in the Hudson County Jewish community have heard of “ongoing” and “continuing” conversations with both the Federation of Northern New Jersey and MetroWest. Would they divide the area? Would they work together? Which one would step up to the plate and annex Hoboken and Jersey City? There have been op-eds, studies, … [Read more...]

Israel Trips & Giving Circles: A Reinvestment Opportunity for the Jewish Future

By Dr. Bradley Caro Cook There's a palpable excitement in the faces of young men and women who have just returned from Israel engagement programs like Birthright Israel. They're inspired by the country they've discovered, connected in a new way to their heritage and the land of their people. In every way, the program has been a success. But now, there's a new challenge: how to take that excitement while it's still fresh, extend it well past the return to "real life" and channel it into the larger Jewish community. Young people have a singular drive and passion perfectly suited for activism and social change; given the right opportunity, they can have a groundbreaking impact on the Jewish World. With this in mind, Project Beyond has seized the opportunity to deepen the students' connection to … [Read more...]

Finding Our Place in the Jewish Community

By Lisa Zimmerman It was not until the birth of my son, that I began to truly consider how we were going to share Jewish culture/life with him. My husband is an atheist, although he was raised in a traditional Jewish household including having a Bar Mitzvah. I, on the other hand, came from Jewish parents who were turned off from religion because of their experiences as children. I was raised with minimal Jewish culture and no religion. I have always felt that in spite of my lack of Jewish experience and my husband’s atheism, that it was imperative that we allow our son to make a decision for himself. But the question was, “How could we enable that, if the only source of Jewish culture that I was aware of was in a synagogue?” My husband had no desire to join and I had no footing in that … [Read more...]

Time to Encourage – Not Discourage – Jews in France

"Paris marais magasin juif" by Vincent de Groot - www.videgro.net. Licensed under Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons.

It might be more constructive to listen to Jews in France and their leadership in order to find out how they see the situation and what they think should be done. By Smadar Bar-Akiva No one can deny the magnitude of recent terror incidents in Paris and the threats they pose to the delicate fabric of French society and to the security of Jews and Jewish institutions. Jews in France clearly feel that last weeks' events were a turning point in their lives. Yet, the calls for French Jews to pack their bags and make Aliya are disturbing and self-defeating. "All rights to Jews as citizens, no rights to Judaism as a nation” was the basic modus vivendi of French Jewry from the time of the French revolution. “Laicite” was the main principal and it meant a secular society, a total separation of … [Read more...]

Smart Partnerships, Wise Investments: Joshua Venture Group Refines its Model

By Lisa Lepson In the late 90’s, the idea of Jewish social entrepreneurship started to take root as an offshoot of the global social change movement. As a result, Joshua Venture Group formed with backing from three pioneering American Jewish foundations - the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Righteous Persons Foundation, and the Walter and Elise Haas Fund. The goal was to empower young leaders with the resources and tools to build influential projects that would bring new life to the Jewish community. The model worked immediately, demonstrating that if we carefully selected our fellows and infused their fledgling organizations with some capital and skills training, they would take off - transforming the Jewish community in the process. The fruits of this idea included organizations such as … [Read more...]