… and North Jersey may lead the way
by Dan Silna
Everyone is wondering what the post-downturn, post-Madoff Jewish world will look like. It’s the hot topic at many Jewish board meetings, planning meetings, and campaign meetings. Our community agencies and institutions are struggling with multiple challenges, and our leadership is trying to get a grip on where to start repairing the damage so that we can serve the needs of Bergen Jewry.
But I must join those who believe that this situation offers an enormous opportunity, particularly for the North Jersey Jewish community. As I read the key findings of the 2008 Survey of New Jewish Organizations, published last month by the Los Angeles-based startup Jumpstart, I could not help but think that what is needed more than ever is that elusive “linking of silos” that will not only make our traditional institutions stronger but will also make room for the innovation and creativity that young startups offer.
One local effort that is still in startup mode but has enormous potential for collaborative growth is the Kehillah Partnership, a new initiative now at the close of its second pilot year that has successfully linked synagogues, our area JCCs, and our UJA Federation in creating exciting, community-wide educational programming for bar and bat mitzvah-aged children and their parents. The professional and lay leadership of eight synagogues – Reform and Conservative – came together in recent months to create an exciting program in the Israeli cultural arts that culminated in a community showcase at the Bergen County YJCC on Sunday.
If you were in the building, you would have felt the electricity: 175 sixth-graders having fun, learning, creating, talking about Israel, and meeting kids from other synagogues and communities. Parents from different synagogues and denominations studying Jewish texts and discussing the challenges they face raising Jewish teens. Educators and teachers energized by working with young, talented artists who bring content and excitement to our classrooms and to the Kehillah programs at the YJCC.
That’s just a taste of what we can and must do, sharing resources, innovating, and giving our children a better educational and communal grounding so they grow up committed to being part of a vibrant Jewish community.
The ultimate vision of the Kehillah Partnership is cross-denominational programming for all ages – families with young children, teens, young adults, empty nesters, and seniors – that creates a layer of educational engagement beyond synagogue schools and JCC programming while creating meaningful points of synergy with our existing schools and programs, strengthening our institutions while invigorating our programs and our outreach. We have found in the first two pilot years of Kehillah that if we work together, we can bring resources into the community that individual synagogues or JCCs could not afford on their own. We can collaborate on innovative programming that taps into ideas and experiences of a wide range of professionals. We can get buy-in from leadership of all of our institutions to inspire and engage their constituents. And, as we move along in what we believe could be a seven-year growth process, we can reach a point where we can make entry to the Jewish community more affordable, more attractive to the unaffiliated, and more meaningful to our children and families, while achieving financial sustainability.
One of Jumpstart’s key findings was that startups seek collaborative approaches to increase the effectiveness of their programming. In our new economic reality, it is vital that our institutions and agencies work together productively, collaborate for the common good, and invest communally in innovative ideas that will excite and engage both the affiliated and the unaffiliated. In northern New Jersey, the Kehillah Partnership has started to do just that. With good will, financial sense, and creative energy, we can demonstrate to the rest of the American Jewish community what exciting possibilities lay ahead.
Read more about the Kehillah Partnership on their Website.
Dan Silna is the immediate past president of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.