…And the Young Shall Inherit the Earth – Lessons for the Jewish Communal World

Last week in his blog, Dan Brown offered an important perspective on the dramatic and difficult changes our Jewish organizations and institutions face. He noted that “change, donor rights, reputation, transparency and trust will be some of the most important key words for 2009.” Yet, in just the past weeks, we continue to read about some leaders of our most respected Jewish organizations making unfortunate decisions, misusing the media to air differences, failing to involve stakeholders in decision-making or agenda-setting – in other words, behaving in a “business-as-usual” fashion.

Sadly, that approach has consequences that may not become fully evident this year or next, but that will be revealed when younger Jews, (those who may be in their late teens or early 20’s today) exposed to all this “old-school” rancor, decide to take their desire to become involved and participate philanthropically elsewhere.

I went back to noted blogger, JP Rangawami’s (aka Confused of Calcutta) blog titled “Kernel- Building Society for the 21st Century” because it offers several important insights into the world we now occupy. I urge you to read it in full but here are a few of Rangawami’s key ideas to consider as we work our way through this communal mess and think about the implications of our behavior on future generations of Jews.

  1. In decades past, early adopters of the latest and most advanced goods and services (cars, electronics, appliances) were people in their 30’s and 40’s – today 12-21 year olds have become the early adopters of the new stuff
  2. These young early adopters of today’s technologies work from an individual’s perspective – not an institutional one. They are coming of age not caring about hierarchy of authority; with little interest in institutions; comfortable setting their own agendas; questioning the status quo; empowered, inquisitive about values and ethics; protective of their time and eager to participate in shaping the institutions they select as worthy
  3. They migrate to institutions that reflect the values they hold and that make it possible for individuals to make a difference
  4. The web is about diversity, individuality, personal-ness. People want to be connected, not channeled, to choose their experiences and to co-create them with peers they respect and trust.

So as we lurch toward solutions to our current economic and communal crisis, it might be wise to step back and see the future we are shaping through the eyes of our youth. If we want them to lead our communities tomorrow, we better figure out if we have left them anything to work with that they will value. That means not just getting it right in the ways Dan suggests – but thinking about how to create personal capitalism opportunities instead of institutional capitalism ones out of our Jewish communal enterprise. And doing it with a spirit of generosity, respect and openness that our young will expect.

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional, with deep experience in both the public and private sectors. She currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.