Toward Real Journalism in America’s Jewish Communities


By Marshall Weiss and Alan D. Abbey It’s time to open a conversation about how North American Jewish Federations can and should play a role in bringing about more vibrant, open Jewish journalism in their backyards. We believe that Federations with the courage to move the needle of their owned, sponsored, or supported newspapers in the direction of real journalism will benefit not only their local Jewish communities, but the Federation enterprise in particular. Other than in the largest of North American Jewish communities, Jewish publications cannot survive on an advertising and subscription model. These days, it’s challenging enough even in the large markets. Going back over the past century, this is why Federations entered the newspaper business: if they hadn’t, local community Jewish … [Read more...]

A Jewish Organization’s First “Diversity Team Meeting”

diversity team

A Jewish Organization’s First “Diversity Team Meeting:” Come, be a Fly on the Wall By Ilana Kaufman It was now 9:13 am, and we had work to do. This was the first diversity team meeting for Irving’s organization. Around the table sat six executive and senior staff, and seven program staff. I knew Irving and his team to be smart, thoughtful, reflective, assertive, and most of all fair-minded. This team had come together with no direct path but a clear sense of destination. Neatly printed on the white board, it said: To become an authentic, thriving community, inclusive of all Jews and expressions of Jewish life. After a check-in question designed to focus attention on the day’s work, Irving walked up to the front of the room, and underneath the destination-statement wrote, WHAT’S WRONG WITH … [Read more...]

Why Does Synagogue Change Miss the Mark? Think Structuralist vs Experientialist

By Kathy Elias Anne, Adam and Ariel belong to the same congregation. If you ask them what they want from their synagogue, they use exactly the same words: "To feel embraced and supported ... Grounded, a place that feels like “home”...Stability - to know the synagogue community will be there if they need it." If you ask them how to make all of that happen, they use exactly the same word: change. If you ask them what to change, well, that’s where we get into problems. You’d have to know more about them to understand what they’re imagining. Anne has been on the board of directors for eight years, and a member of the congregation for more than 20. It makes her sad to see how much the Shabbat morning crowd in the sanctuary has decreased. In her Conservative synagogue, it seems like they’re … [Read more...]

Honeymoon Israel – the First Few Months

By Michael Wise and Avi Rubel Since launching the new Honeymoon Israel program this past October, we’ve crisscrossed the US, talking to hundreds of newly married couples with at least one Jewish partner. Whether the couples are interfaith, one partner converted or if they’re Jewish-Jewish, we heard a consistent theme: young couples are eagerly seeking to meet and become friends with other, similar couples in their communities. This desire for “community” came up in almost every conversation and interview. While this may not be entirely surprising, it is instructive for the Jewish community. The way that most of the Jewish community operates today would indicate that there is a belief that many of these couples are “lost to us” unless and until they choose a Jewish path for their kids. However, … [Read more...]

Jewish Camps: How is the Magic Made?

photo courtesy Blue Star Camps

By Joseph Reimer Many of us have become increasingly aware that Jewish summer camps make magic. Camps provide powerful Jewish bonding experiences that lead many youth to feel more passionate about their Judaism. Yet we are not exactly sure how this happens. There have been empirical studies that support the power of the camp experience. Yet there remains so much that we do not yet know about how camps make this magic or what it would take to make Jewish camps even more effective zones of Jewish learning. In order to tackle these questions, The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) and The Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE) partnered to bring together last month front-line practitioners, researchers and funders to gather for a day of conversation and consultation. Together … [Read more...]

Alternatives to the Alternative: Voluntary Dues and Other Variations on a Theme

By Amy Asin The report issued this week by UJA-NY Federation’s Synergy, Are Voluntary Dues Right for Your Synagogue? A Practical Guide, contains useful information about 26 congregations across North America - many of which are members of the URJ - that have implemented voluntary dues models. As we work with congregations that are experimenting with dues models in our Community of Practice on Reimagining Financial Support for the 21st Century Congregation, the URJ has uncovered several trends worth noting: 1. Most congregations no longer operate on a functional fixed dues system, although some that do are eliminating or greatly reducing their abatement process. In some congregations a third to half of all members can be on reduced dues. With that many members paying less than full dues, … [Read more...]

The Unprecedented Explosion of Now

Teens at BBYO 2014 IC (International Convention); photo courtesy BBYO.

Teen conferences offer chance for youth, adult thought leaders to collaborate on engagement for a Jewish future By Maayan Jaffe An unprecedented explosion of now that could have tremendous impact on the Jewish future will be erupting between Feb. 12 and 16 in Atlanta, Ga. Four different but associated conventions focused on teen leadership and engagement will coincide in “The-A,” connecting more than 3,000 Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and unaffiliated Jewish teens, philanthropists and thought leaders. The meeting place and classroom will include inspiring speakers, learning opportunities, platforms for dialogue, a Shabbat experience and community service hours. BBYO’s International Convention (IC) 2015 five-day summit will host upwards of 2,000 teens from across the North America … [Read more...]

When Bad Things Happen to Good Agencies: An Opening Series of Observations

By Robert Hyfler, PhD The sociologist C. Wright Mills once observed that a single marital divorce can often be attributed to factors unique to that couple while a significant increase in the divorce rate indicates that larger societal issues are at play. So too, the spate of financial crises, bankruptcies and overt scandals in the nonprofit world begs the question, “what’s going on and what can be done about it?” I would posit that a collection of factors have led us to this point: The increase in the number of executive skills and roles required at the top, not easily managed by a single individual - visionary, fundraiser, financial manager; The bad collective decision that being “fundraiser in chief” tops all the other roles and skill requirements of the CEO; The ego and hubris of … [Read more...]