A Strong, Involved – and Misdiagnosed – Generation

by Gabrielle Carlin and Andy Ashwal

Much has been written about the future of the Jewish people hood; specifically, today’s leaders are concerned with the erosion of the next generation’s involvement in the traditional philanthropic Jewish community. Summarily, the concerns range from a lack of a sense of collective responsibility on the part of Americans Jews under the age of 35 to despair that today’s young Jews are increasingly disconnected from the State of Israel. Such is not the case. We have truly been misdiagnosed as a generation more concerned with ourselves than our people hood. Having only heard today’s leaders speak about tomorrow’s generation, it is time for us – the generation under scrutiny – to weigh in.

As the Campaign Executive for Jewish National Fund’s JNFuture and the lay leader in that group, our generation is indeed connected to our people and has made a tangible impact.

Our organization, JNFuture, is the Jewish National Fund’s (JNF’s) creative solution to empowering young leaders to carry on the traditions that our organization has established since its inception. Founded in 1901, JNF has transformed the State of Israel and has become a global environmental leader with innovations in water research, community development and afforestation. JNF’s rich history as the land’s caretaker, coupled with its progressive and proactive work today, not only attracted the founders of JNFuture, but inspired them as well. From an initial group of eight in New York City in 2007, today JNFuture’s New York City presence has grown to 100 members with net funds raised of more than $115,000 during our 2009/2010 campaign year. We have also extended our reach to eight chapters across the United States with more than 1,000 members, and have raised over $250,000 for JNF’s projects. And while each of us are honing our individual skills by attending graduate schools and working in unrelated areas, we come together collectively to preserve the legacy started by today’s Jewish leaders.

Such has most recently been evidenced by our 3rd annual Shabbat in the Park, an event attended by over 350 young philanthropists at the Central Park Zoo in New York. The proceeds were donated to JNF’s Rainwater Harvesting Program, a program designed to help schools in Israel conserve much-needed water and to teach the Israeli students about the conservation process. Also present at this event was the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, who shared with our generation the unique situations that our homeland has most recently been experiencing. United under a tent, but more importantly by a collective sense of purpose, that evening epitomized the real truth of our generation: that we do care and that we are doing something about it.

As a philanthropy, JNFuture is not just about writing a check; it’s about having a tangible impact on the environment and people of Israel. With no political affiliation, JNF can truly focus on positive environmental solutions for water and energy. And not only are we committed to bettering Israel, but also educating others on how JNF and Israel better the world. We see JNFuture as the standard bearer for this positive movement. Here’s why:

  • Israel Makes the World a Better Place: Serving as a “light unto the nations,” JNFuture is proud of Israel’s and JNF’s expertise, work and largesse. From Pakistan to Malaysia to Rwanda, JNF shares its cutting-edge technologies with other nations, which helps improve our world. The global message is powerful.
  • Transparency: JNF’s four-star Charity Navigator rating and excellence in fiscal responsibility and transparency go a long way for the next generation. Our standards are high.
  • Inclusivity: JNFuture is open to anyone who cares about Israel, the environment or being involved in Jewish life. If you come to us with an open mind, we want you.
  • Respect: JNFuture has deep respect for the history of JNF and its current leadership. What is key is that respect is given in return and our ideas are valued. We have a seat at the table at which we share our vision for the organization and contribute to its growth and success.
  • Flexibility: Contrary to traditional philanthropic behavior, JNFuture allows, understands, and even respects cross-organizational involvement. This flexibility and fluidity is seen as a positive; it allows the powers of social connectivity to introduce friends and colleagues to your interest or cause.

But the truth is that we are not the only members of our generation making a difference. JNFuture is just one organization amongst many, like UJA’s Emerging Leadership and Philanthropy, the Anti-Defamation League’s Glass Institute, Next Generation Philanthropy and the American Jewish Committee’s ACCESS New Generation Program, that is continuing the strong foundation that today’s leaders have cemented. Many of these young leaders have even united together and formed the Board of Young Jewish Presidents for the Jewish Community Relations Counsel. As members, we meet with our peers on a monthly basis to discuss how we are putting our philanthropic values into action and why we share the collective responsibility in educating our generation on what they can do to help. With volunteer service programs and activities like JNF’s Alternative Spring Break in Israel, Otzma Israel Teaching Corp and MASA Israel, we are leaving an impact on the Jewish world and establishing ourselves as key players in the Jewish philanthropy community.

Our klal Yisrael does indeed look different from previous generations’, but that doesn’t make us indifferent or disconnected to our people. It just means that we have different strategies to the same goals: to continue being a generation of action and community, a generation that today’s leaders can be proud of. Start to follow us. You will not be disappointed.

Gabrielle Carlin is a Campaign Executive with Jewish National Fund and manager of JNFuture in New York City. Andy Ashwal is the Chair of JNFuture’s New York City chapter.