A Third Gen Professional Takes the Reigns in Vancouver

Ezra_JF_Donor Event_ks175

by Abigail Pickus These days, Ezra Shanken looks out his office window and sees snowcapped mountains. It’s a long way from Manhattan, where Shanken recently served as Director of Emerging Leaders & Philanthropists (ELP) at UJA-Federation of New York.   But as the newest Chief Executive Officer of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver - and arguably, at 33, one of the youngest to ever assume such an executive role in the Jewish communal world - Shanken seems up to the challenge. “This has been a dream that I’ve had from the beginning,” said Shanken. “I’ve come up within the Federation world. I believe in it. I have had a lot of great mentors. And each step has led me towards this opportunity to lead a community.” “It’s a lot of responsibility and such an incredible … [Read more...]

Like-Minded Jews: How Can Congregations Solve the Riddle of Relational Judaism and Impact Giving?

Part 1 of 2 by Robert Evans and Bryan Schwartzman Adam Furman has affiliated with a Reform congregation in southern California for more than a decade. As a single man and now married with two young toddlers, Furman has attended numerous temple events, often schmoozing within the same small circle of friends. The problem, as Furman saw it, is that he never felt connected to his congregation, despite his participation, and he believed the essence of the problem was a lack of developing relationships with other temple members. A conversation with David Lorber, a friend from business school at the Rady School of Management at the University of California San Diego, led Furman to realize that he was not alone. Lorber was similarly disenchanted with the lack of connection to his congregation and … [Read more...]

We Are So Jewish It’s Ridiculous: Stop Worrying About Pew

The Pew poll captured an exciting trend: the secularizing of a younger generation of Jews that encompasses my entire social circle and me. [This essay is from "Philanthropic Priorities in Light of Pew," reprinted with permission from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.] by Sarah Seltzer During my early and mid-20s, I embodied the attrition phenomenon in organized Jewish life. My growing disinterest was the very kind that the recent Pew study, subject of so much attention in both religious and secular media, captures. I dropped into free services at the theological school near my apartment and had holiday dinners with my family, but that was pretty much it. I joked that my first Hillel Shabbat dinner at college was also my last. I was, and am, just too … [Read more...]

Preparing Visionary Leadership for American Jewish Education

by Robert Chazan and Benjamin M. Jacobs Over the ages, Jews have relied on two kinds of leaders - the managerial and the visionary. The managers consisted of the elite of wealth and material achievement, who could steer Jewish communities through the quotidian difficulties that beset them. They developed their skills in the hurly-burly of daily life, mostly by dint of hard work and business or professional achievement. The visionaries, on the other hand, set the broader course for Jewish communities, orienting them toward objectives compatible with and demanded by core Jewish values. These visionary leaders prepared themselves through extensive study of both Written and Oral Torah and received certification of their expertise in the form of rabbinic ordination. The community depended on both … [Read more...]

Can the Pew Findings Guide Philanthropic Investment in the Jewish Community

Philanthropic efforts need to walk a line between supporting the existing institutional structure and disruptive efforts that foster development of new forms of engagement. [This essay is from "Philanthropic Priorities in Light of Pew," reprinted with permission from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.] by Leonard Saxe The 2013 Pew Research Center’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans” was like manna from heaven for pundits across the Jewish world. The study unleashed a virtual tsunami of commentary. Most commentators lamented the state of American Jewish life described by Pew and saw the findings as evidence of fuzzy identification with Judaism, growing secularization and lessened Jewish engagement. Pundits typically saw the findings as confirming their … [Read more...]

Reverse Birthright: Pioneering Academic Program takes Israelis on U.S. Adventure

Students of the University of Haifa's Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies visit Ellis Island last month as part of their 10-day U.S. trip; Photo courtesy Gur Alroey.

by Jeffrey F. Barken JNS.org Gur Alroey, chair of the School of History at the University of Haifa and director of the Israeli school’s pioneering Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies, has likened a 10-day United States trip for the program’s students to “Reverse Taglit,” referring to the free Taglit-Birthright trips of the same length that bring diaspora Jews to Israel. Last month, the Ruderman Program’s inaugural class of 21 graduate students took part in that immersive U.S. journey, attending lectures, meeting community leaders, and touring historical and religious sites that reflect the American Jewish experience. “The focus is American Jewry, to examine this community as a group that stands in its own right, independent of Israel,” Alroey tells JNS.org. In August 2013, … [Read more...]

The Jewish Community’s Responsibility to Working Families

The Jewish community should hold itself to a higher standard when it comes to family-friendly policies. by Rachel Wasserman A recent article in the Huffington Post sparked an impassioned discussion amongst my friends. The article, “Why Sick Kids Should be Allowed at Daycare,” was written by a pediatrician who asserted that children are too often sent home from daycare for exhibiting symptoms of illness that do not actually warrant either a visit to the doctor or a day home from school. The piece ends by mentioning the need to change the culture of daycare in order to support working families. The subsequent discussion was dominated by full-time working Jewish mothers - myself included - venting about the lack of flexible childcare arrangements in our community. Lately, it seems as though … [Read more...]

The Federation Movement and the Challenge of Jewish Identity: Interpreting Pew

The Federation movement is at a crossroads. The key will be a commitment to developing a Judaism of meaning, rooted in substance. We must build a community with no barriers to entry, but with a vision of Jewish life as high as Sinai... [This essay is from "Philanthropic Priorities in Light of Pew," reprinted with permission from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.] by Barry Shrage In 1965, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel spoke to the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds at the General Assembly (GA) in Montreal: "There are two words I should like to strike from our vocabulary: “surveys” and “survival.“ Our community is in spiritual distress, and some of our organizations are often too concerned with digits. Our disease is loss of character and … [Read more...]