Relational Judaism: How Building Community Helped Us Change Our Dues Model

By Dani Robbins My career has taken me to multiple cities in several states, and each time I’ve moved, I’ve looked for a new religious home by calling around to local synagogues. I found it off-putting, however, when the people on the other end talked to me about money before they welcomed me or invited me to visit. By the third or fourth call, I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the way our congregations welcome prospective members. Imagine my delight, then, in learning that my current congregation, Congregation Beth Tikvah, was considering changing its dues model - really turning it on its head. I’ve been reimagining the financial future of Jewish congregations for years, so I was thrilled to participate in the congregation’s efforts to do so. For years, Congregation Beth Tikvah, … [Read more...]

Anybody’s Judaism


Anybody’s Judaism: If new media offer a platform to anyone with an opinion, whose opinion counts? By Maayan Jaffe For generations it has been clear who sets the Jewish agenda and trends: A group of older men in a boardroom backed by major funders and philanthropists. This packaged Judaism wasn’t unique to the Jewish people. Trends - be they in the automobile or clothing industry - were for generations set by major retail establishments that had the funding necessary to access advertising venues and reach the masses. Similarly, the news we read was that which appeared on the front page of the New York Times. The world has changed. The model of the all-knowing leader and the passive constituent has come to an end and in its stead is a “me model,” a model of the empowered consumer who … [Read more...]

At the Crossroads: Reinventing the Jewish Public Policy Sector


By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. A number of avenues of Jewish life are undergoing a process of reinvention; over the past several years, these have included Jewish education, camping, outreach initiatives, global social activism, and synagogue worship. Why not the discipline of Jewish community relations? Why not explore a partnership with the major streams of American Jewish philanthropy to re-engineer and grow the community relations enterprise? In hindsight, the community relations system must be seen as one of the extraordinary success stories within the American Jewish experience. … [Read more...]

Slamming It for a New Generation


[This essay is from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. Reprinted with permission.] By David Zvi Kalman Let me explain why SermonSlam, which was conceived in October, 2013 as an open-mic, Jewish-themed performance series with almost no budget and no paid staff, has been taken up by communities in 23 cities in four countries and has been sponsored by rabbis and professionals of every major denomination, by every age group, and by synagogues, Hillels, Moishe Houses, independent minyanim, JCCs, local Federations, rabbinical schools, high schools and summer camps  - often at the same time. Let me explain how the SermonSlam concept has so quickly entered Jewish communities across America that we, its coordinators, are now discovering SermonSlams popping up … [Read more...]

Framing the Israel Debate: Beyond the Rhetoric of Hate Speech


A thoughtful and essential conversation on Israel is needed, so that both the supporters and opponents of the contemporary political condition can be invited to participate. By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. Words can be employed as destructive weapons or they can be seen as supportive tools. The conversation around Israel often revolves around defining words or phrases, such as being identified as “pro Israel” or “anti Israel.” In December (2014) I presented on these pages a description of what I defined as “An Unsettling Jewish Environment” offering a commentary on the state of discourse around Israel. This piece seeks to expand upon that presentation in light of Israel’s recent election cycle. Realizing how essential political discourse can be in promoting one’s argument, any effort to label … [Read more...]

7 Post-Denominational Opportunities: It’s About Attitude, Not Structure

[This essay is from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. Reprinted with permission.] By Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu Trans-denominationalism and post-de-nominationalism are great words. They sound big and important. “We are entering a new post-denominational age,” the Jewish pundits declare. Often this declaration is meant to scare people. We are entering uncharted water; the great Jewish institutions of the 20th Century are crumbling. We don’t know where we are headed. Ahh! Watch out! Okay, reality check: we have been here before. We are masters at navigating change. The Twelve Tribes of Israel become two Kingdoms, North and South. The Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and countless other sects morphed into Rabbinic Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism survived the Exile, … [Read more...]

Missed Opportunities for Jewish Life in Renewed Urban Neighborhoods


What if various larger Jewish nonprofits saw their role as focused not exclusively on funding existing operations through grants, but rather in investing wholesale in communal growth and creating the facilities and infrastructure to allow that to happen? [This essay is from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. Reprinted with permission.] By Steven I. Weiss One hundred years ago, Harlem was among the largest Jewish population centers on the planet. Some 175,000 Jews called Harlem their home, and synagogues, Jewish schools and communal organizations dotted the landscape. Several of New York’s most prominent congregations - such as Ansche Chesed and Ohab Zedek synagogues - were once located right in the heart of Harlem. Due to a range of economic and social … [Read more...]

Gender Equity in the Jewish Nonprofit? Progress Being Made

Gender equality

By Maayan Jaffe The topic of women’s empowerment in the workplace is not a new one. Whether you call it the challenge of the “mommy track,” the “sticky floor” or the “glass ceiling,” women continue to grapple with how to move ahead while balancing work-family life. For more than a decade, women leaders have tackled the subject from different perspectives. In 2000, author Eve Nagy pointed out in an article published by Sulam that women in top Jewish communal leadership roles earn as much as $20,000 less than their male counterparts - a statistic that has not nudged. In 2010, Dvora Meyers reported in an article published by Repair the World that female Jewish communal professionals earn $28,000 less than men working in the field ... and that is even if women can get to the top spot. Within … [Read more...]