By Leora Maccabee Itman
When I moved back to my hometown of Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 2009 after college and law school, I wanted to connect with the Jewish community on my own terms. I wanted to find an online hub where I could learn about Jewish social, cultural and spiritual events and volunteer opportunities for young adults in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and then plug into them. I wanted to “do Jewish” surrounded by my peers, and hopefully meet a good-looking guy and a couple of great friends in the process.
Unfortunately, I quickly found out that this online information hub didn’t exist. Instead, learning about Jewish opportunities for young adults in the Twin Cities was a difficult and often frustrating piecemeal process. I knew I wasn’t the only person with these feelings so I created the online hub I had been searching for – first on Facebook, and then at TCJewfolk.com.
Our team of volunteers contributing to the site soon realized that young adults didn’t just want an online listing of Jewish events to attend; rather, they wanted a platform to write blogs and share articles from other young adults from their community. This way, they could engage in conversations about all kinds of ideas about Jewish life: What does it means to be Jewish? Why did our local Jewish singles group fall apart? Why did the local Jewish bookstore close? They could offer their perspective on everything from what was happening in Israel to how to make a mean matzo ball soup. TCJewfolk.com would be a vibrant, independent, and unaffiliated online Jewish blog and community space for those in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and the young at heart.
Since 2009, TC Jewfolk has worked to fulfill this vision. We are committed to providing our readers with many entry points for engaging in Jewish life locally – and for reflecting on Jewish identity – without being proscriptive about what it means to be Jewish. We use TCJewfolk.com and our vibrant Facebook page to engage local young adults (and the young at heart) in Jewish life, to tell stories, and to bring together a diverse set of voices and content to help Jews (and those seeking to connect Jewishly) create an authentic connection to local and global Jewish life.
By 2012, our following had steadily increased; young adults repeatedly turned to us for all things Jewish in the Twin Cities. That year, we became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and we now have a passionate and dedicated Board of Directors, plus a staff of dozens of writers. We are supported by over 300 individual donors and family and community foundations, and we were thrilled to receive one of Natan and NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation’s 2014 Grants for Social Entrepreneurs. The grant provides financial support, professional consultations and strategic guidance on how to further grow and operate our organization.
Today, TC Jewfolk is a vital part of Jewish life for many in the Twin Cities. In summer 2014, we surveyed TC Jewfolk’s readers and the leaders of Twin Cities Jewish organizations about the unique value the site provides to our community. Our youngest readership survey respondents (ages 20-39) indicated that TC Jewfolk “is an important source of news and unbiased opinions,” “allows me to hear about people in the community in my age group and hear opinions from people in my age group,” and “provides unique and fresh opinions/articles,” with “contributions from anyone with something constructive to say about Jewish life.”
Our local rabbis and Jewish organizational leaders testified that TC Jewfolk “amplifies our work in the broader community,” “reaches an audience that may not otherwise know about the Twin Cities Jewish community and offers different perspectives of Jewish engagement,” “stays ahead of the curve and keeps the community looking forward,” and that since “we don’t have enough Jewish news outlets in [Minneapolis], TC Jewfolk has filled a vacuum that needed to be filled.”
We are now at a critical phase in our development. We have taken on an ambitious project to raise way more money than we’ve ever raised before, and build a stronger community around the site than we’ve ever attempted. We just launched a search for an Executive Director for our organization and are hoping to get applications from talented candidates across the country. (If you or anyone you know might be interested, please send them our way!)
The Pew Research Center study on American Jews showed us that 94% of U.S. Jews surveyed said that they were proud to be Jewish. Young Jews may not be flocking to synagogues, or joining and donating to Jewish organizations to the same extent as their parents and grandparents, but they are looking for ways to connect, engage, and get inspired Jewishly. TC Jewfolk is a new model for a new generation, and with the soon-to-be-hiring of an Executive Director, we look forward to ensuring TC Jewfolk’s sustainability, and then sharing the model with other interested communities around the country. In the meantime, come hang out with us at TCJewfolk.com!
Leora Maccabee Itman is Founder of TCJewfolk.com and President of Jewfolk Media, Inc., its 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Leora is an attorney at the Maslon Firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota.