How Do We Tell Our Story?

Haviv Rettig Gur writing in The Jerusalem Post:

Solomon urges behavioral changes in Jewish community

The Jewish world can have a strong recovery from the damage wrought by the worldwide recession and the Madoff fraud, but only if it figures out how to tell a story worth hearing, according to Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and a former senior vice president of the New York Jewish federation.

The havoc wrought on Jewish communal life will likely be felt for years, Solomon believes. In the Tuesday talk, an event of the Council on Israel-Diaspora Affairs of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, he noted that the Madoff fraud alone “killed 51 foundations and seriously injured 143 others. In the context of the worst recession since the Great Depression, we don’t know how quickly we will recover from those losses.”

Yet the recession itself was a relatively small part of the problem, Solomon continued.

“Philanthropy never drops as much as the Dow, and recovers faster. It even grows in a recession,” as evidenced by continued growth in contributions to the United Jewish Appeal throughout the years of the Great Depression, he said.

Now, however, the difficult economy comes during a dramatic shift already underway in American Jewish life – “the most massive generational change in history,” in Solomon’s words…

But ultimately, Solomon believes, the Jewish organizational world must begin to invest far greater efforts in “telling our story.”

“The issue becomes how we make Jewish causes compelling. How do we get people as excited about Jewish causes as they might be about a new science building at their alma mater or a new wing in a museum? We are a story-telling people. How do we tell this story?”

At the end of the day, “I’m definitely optimistic,” Solomon says emphatically, “but I don’t think I’m optimistic across the board. So much depends on behavioral changes in the Jewish community. All of us – funders, grantee organizations, individual donors, large central organizations – are really in control of this, and it’s what we do that will decide the future.”