A transformational moment: The American Jewish communal order in the post-pandemic age
The American Jewish community is undergoing a profound structural reorganization and social reorientation. The full implication of these dramatic and definitive changes will take years to fully appreciate and comprehend.
We’re undoubtedly living through a pivotal time in history. Future generations will learn about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on society for many years. While we can’t say for sure exactly what this impact will be, we can certainly think about what post-pandemic life will look like.
Over the years, my writings have often focused on emerging trends and consumer behaviors. Indeed, considerable attention has been given to specific patterns significant to the Jewish communal system. As a result of the pandemic and other forces, my attention has turned to the mega social and economic factors that will alter our society.
The Jewish community, already bombarded by a set of internal challenges and threats, must also manage the many external factors now in play. The nature and scope of these forces is fundamentally transforming the Jewish communal eco-system. This article examines a wide array of contemporary themes, among them generational change, public policy considerations and work culture issues, as well as explores technological, nonprofit and economic trends.
- The Generational Revolution:
The emergence of the Z Generation represents one of the central elements contributing to the projected changes we are likely to experience. In connection with generational behaviors, we are introducing five core components of change:
Generations Count: Gen-Z is now the largest generation and the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in this nation’s history. According to Pew Research: one in four is Hispanic, 14% are African-American and 6% are Asian. And their views on gender and identity are more fluid than previous generations.
Ethical Investors: In connection with this dramatic generational shift, value-based consumerism is redefining the marketplace. “This new school of investors are using their money to invest in socially responsible companies and sell stocks when they think a company is not serving the best interest of people and the planet.”
Trust as a Core Measure: Studies suggest that young Americans don’t have the same trust or relationship to core social and political institutions as their parents. In fact, 95% of people who own crypto are Millennials or Gen-Z. At the same time, 57% report that they have sold stock when they think the company is not serving the best interest of our planet or society. The implication here institutions need to reflect a greater social consciousness and adaptively operate their business practices and policies in order to garner generational trust.
Climate as an Economic Factor: This new generation of consumers is opting to reuse, recycle and reduce. The resale market is growing eleven times faster than traditional retail. Young consumers are now using their voice and dollar to put pressure on companies to transform and become part of the climate justice culture.
The Nature of Work: As younger people enter the workforce, we are experiencing a significant transformation around the nature of work. One of the core outcomes is the permanent status of the remote employee and the rise of the “gig worker.” In their book The Human Cloud, Matthew Mottola and Matthew Coatney argue that traditional full-time employment will be a thing of the past, as organizations shift to hiring people on a contract basis.
- Public Policy Implications:
This second category examines the broader social and economic trends impacting the quality and health of American society. For Jews the issues introduced here on such topics as poverty, housing and homelessness, & racism and sexism represent key policy considerations of importance to our community.
Poverty Factor: More Americans are living in poverty today than during any time since the 1990s. 2020’s official poverty rate was 11.4%, up from 10.5% in 2019. This has been the first increase following five consecutive yearly declines.
Affordable Housing and Homelessness: More than eleven million U.S. households spend over half their monthly income on rent. The reality is that the economics of homelessness are daunting. Over 500,000 people in the United States remain homeless. Even at $100,000 per unit, it’s hard to make a dent in the problem in communities with rampant homelessness including cities such as Los Angeles, Tacoma and Spokane.
Racism and Sexism: Are we as a society prepared to deal with the major questions of race and racism, sexual orientation and conduct? As some politicians and states seek to legislate away any significant discussion and action on such themes, others are seeking ways to create policies and programs designed to bring these issues forward.
- The Changing Culture of the Workspace:
The workplace environment and the changing character of work represents a third area of profound transition. The issues introduced below represent significant barometers for the broader society but also have specific implications for the Jewish communal sector.
“We’ve all been living through the greatest workplace disruption in generations and the pace will not slow down. What will change is how variable that disruption becomes. In 2022, leaders will need to learn how to thrive in a period of disruption that plays out unevenly across their organizations.”
Flatter Organizational Structures: Historically, organizations have been very hierarchical and rigid in their structures. Today, in both the business and nonprofit sectors, leaders recognize the need for flatter, more agile structures that allow work teams to be more response to change.
From “Great Resignation” to “Sustained Resignation”: A record 4.3 million workers quit their jobs in August of 2021. America’s acute talent crisis will likely persist for years. Employers are offering significant compensation increases both to attract and retain personnel. The data supports this finding: year-to-date salary increases have been more than 4%, compared to a historical norm of 2%. Ultimately, we’re likely to see a handful of organizations adopt 32-hour work weeks with the same compensation as a new way to compete for knowledge workers.
An additional finding noted that employees who are working hybrid or remotely have fewer friends at work and thus weaker social and emotional connections with their co-workers. These weaker connections make it easier for employees to leave their positions.
As the pool of potential employers expands, this will expand the bargaining position of employees. With hybrid and remote work as the norm, the geographic radius of the organizations that someone can work for also expands.
The Changing Work Culture: During the pandemic, many organizations expanded the wellness support they provided to their employees. A Gartner 2020 survey of 52 HR executives found that:
- 94% of companies made significant investments in their well-being programs
- 85% increased support for mental health benefits
- 50% increased support for physical well-being
- 38% increased support for financial well-being
Health Factors: Employees who utilized these benefits reported 23% higher levels of mental health, 17% higher levels of physical health, and are 23% more likely to say they sleep well at night. These improvements in personal outcomes translate to higher levels of performance and retention.
Operational Work Models: More than 90% of employers are planning to adopt a hybrid working model.
The Fairness Factor: Fairness and equity considerations are creating new questions for nonprofits and the business sector. Debates that have fairness at the core, whether it’s around race, climate change or COVID vaccine distribution, have become flashpoints in society. According to an S&P 500 report, the frequency with which CEOs talk about issues of equity, fairness and inclusion has increased by 658% since 2018.
Political Culture and the Work Environment: A 2020 survey of more than 500 employees revealed that 44% of employees have actively avoided coworkers because of their political beliefs. Employee engagement can drop by one-third when employees are disappointed with their employer’s stance on the societal and political debates of the day. “We’ve all been living through the greatest workplace disruption in generations and the pace will not slow down. What will change is how variable that disruption becomes. In 2022, leaders will need to learn how to thrive in a period of disruption that plays out unevenly across their organizations.”
- Emerging Realities:
Beyond these particular areas of consideration, it is important for our community to consider the implications of change in each of these four areas as well:
- Technological innovation will play a significant role in our society. “At many nonprofits, smart tech is becoming integrated into internal workflows, fundraising, communications, finance operations and service delivery efforts.”
- New nonprofit trend lines will likewise be profoundly important in 2022. Here, we can identify four key elements: “Digital Wallets,” Mission Messaging, the Impact of Inflation, and the Power of the Virtual.
- Patterns of religious involvement and practice represent another area of change and challenge. Elsewhere, this writer among others has offered extensive commentary on the dynamic changes we are experiencing on the ground in the religious world. Such issues as the rise of the “Religious Nones,” the downsizing, closures and mergers of churches and other religious institutions, the great clergy resignation, and the rise of virtual religion are each contributing to the transformation of our faith communities.
- Economic issues will contribute to driving a different type of business environment. Big tech companies are vying to dominate the virtual economy. Major players like Meta (formerly known as Facebook), Microsoft, Epic Games and Apple are battling to control the virtual world. If successful, they will not only control market share but the actual market. This pattern, if successful, may be duplicated in other sectors of the economy moving forward.
V. Implications and More:
The analysis and data introduced here is in part designed to provoke a conversation on the “state of our community” as we experience the full impact of this pandemic, understand the evolving and transformative economic forces, and manage the shifting demographic realities. The American Jewish community is undergoing a profound structural reorganization and social reorientation. The full implication of these dramatic and definitive changes will take years to fully appreciate and comprehend.
Steven Windmueller is professor emeritus of Jewish communal studies and currently serves as the interim director of the Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR. His writings can be found on his website: www.thewindreport.com
 Op.Cit. https://hbr.org/2022/01/11-trends-that-will-shape-work-in-2022-and-beyond