Moving Beyond: Strategies for Restarting our Community

By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.

This will be the most expensive crisis in history! The “economic pandemic” may be more painful and challenging than the health crisis itself. In the process of our national recovery, we will be rewriting the rule book on human behavior and organizational change.

Already much has been written on the impact of the Corona Virus on long-term social behaviors, public policy, and cultural trends. Even on this site, we are reading various prescriptive ideas guiding us in our thinking about the future.

The COVID-19 crisis has established a set of new realities:

First, it has already forced people back to accepting that expertise matters. It was easy to sneer at experts until a pandemic arrived, and then people wanted to hear from medical professionals like Anthony Fauci. Second, it may – one might hope – return Americans to a new seriousness, or at least move them back toward the idea that government is a matter for serious people.”.[1]

As we position ourselves to encounter a post-virus world, a number of factors will be reshaping our lives and influencing our social practices:

  • The rediscovery of the American family
  • The age of telemedicine is upon us and the reinvention of medicine and medical care is at hand
  • A new appreciation of science is evolving
  • Americans will form a different relationship with government, just as we are likely to be creating a new age for “Big Government” and more directly, government as the “Big Pharma”
  • We will be moving into an age of “Flexibility, Resiliency and Adaptability”
  • We are about to enter a new Baby Boom!
  • American education will undergo a total rethinking
  • Technologies, introduced during the period of the virus, will permanently change our lifestyles and social practices

As I and others have noted, the economic and structural effects on the Jewish communal and religious order will be significant and transformative.[2] Here is a ten-part assessment of the immediate issues that we will need to address:

  • Dealing with Loss: As we come out of this scenario, many folks will face both personal and collective loss, whether that involves the loss of loved ones or it represents the personal difficulties encountered by being sheltered in place and facing a hard time in readjusting to the new normal. Many in our society are or will experience PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other mental health challenges following this experience. How responsive will our communal infrastructure be in managing these issues?
  • Managing in Stages: We are likely to experience a series of re-entry stages, impacting how our constituencies readjust to “coming out” and managing in a changed world. As individuals move out from under these state-directed mandates in stages, what will be the sequence of actions that will be necessary steps to prepare individuals as they return? What social, psychological, and physical needs are we likely to encounter as individuals reposition themselves after COVID-19?

Not all of us will be coming back to the careers or institutions and programs that had defined our earlier professional experience.

  • Prioritizing What Needs to Happen: What will be the “new needs” facing individuals and families? In all likelihood there will be significant expectations placed on our institutions as we are likely to face demands for specific services and programs. The financial impact will be particularly significant, and the period of recovery will be uneven and challenging.
  • Understanding Distinctive Personal Reactions and Generational Behaviors: In the aftermath of the 2008 Economic Recession and with the experience of the 2020 Corona Virus, what are the particular social practices and cultural behaviors that are likely to reflect Millennial and Gen Z participants as they reshape their lives? Sociologists noted in the aftermath of the Great Depression specific social patterns defined and shaped a generation, are we likely to see similar expressions in the decades following this trauma?
  • Managing the Jewish Economy: At the outset, it is important to note that not all Jewish institutions will survive this pandemic. For those Jewish organizations that do survive, there will be the need to reconstruct budgets, identify high profile needs, and establish contingency funds in the aftermath of this crisis. For a significant period of time, foundations, federations and donors will be called upon to continue to assist communal agencies, synagogues, schools and camps in managing their financial burdens.
  • Reimaging the Roles of our Jewish Professionals in a PostCorona Age: What changes will we see in how our community and religious leaders deal with the changing economic scenarios and cultural environments around them? Many of our personnel will be redesigning their portfolios in response to the types of services and programmatic resources that will be required. Sadly, others will be displaced by the new economic realities.
  • Building Fund Raising Campaigns in the Aftermath of COVID-19: What will be the emerging priorities, how might we create new venues and markets for raising essential capital and operational monies? How will we sustain “secondary” charitable causes over essential ones? Over time, will our community be able to create new income streams? Will we be able to manage the onslaught of charitable initiatives that are likely to be competing with one another?
  • Reconfiguring Over Time How We Might Reinvent the Purposes and Uses of Buildings within our Community: What are the structural and financial options in managing what will become under-used or no longer relevant physical properties of the Jewish community? What programs and services will need to be jettisoned? In turn, what must be added or strengthened to our communal portfolios? We will be facing a fundamental physical reconfiguration and programmatic reorganization of our community!
  • Creating Contingency and Crisis Management Plans: What did we learn from this experience, and how might we be prepared for any future pandemic or economic crisis? Did we draw from the 2008 recession, as an example, to provide any guidance on how operate in this current environment? In this moment, our communal infrastructure must consider operational and financial strategies in dealing with second and even third waves of this virus.
  • Evaluating How We Performed: Beyond the immediate tasks of coming back on-line and the more complex issues of planning ahead, an examination of how both individuals and institutions “performed” during this crisis will be instructive and essential. What can we learn about human behavior and institutional practice during the weeks and months we were operating in isolation?

A Restart Moment:

For organizations and synagogues, for foundations and federations, for camps and schools, in many ways this is a “restart moment” that permits leaders the unique opportunity to employ this “down time” to reset the mission, vision and programmatic directions for their institutions. Some organizational experts are counseling that this is time for the third sector to use this moment to reinvent themselves as a better way to be responsive to the changes and new realities before us. Louis Fawcett, President of the National Association of Nonprofit Organizations and Executives, offers a pathway forward:[3]

This time of self-reflection has led me to think about how the nonprofit sector needs to re-evaluate its priorities… I wonder:

  • Have we been so busy serving people in need in the short term that we haven’t planned for the long term?
  • Have we been so focused on the needs of our causes that we have forgotten about the needs of our donors?
  • Have we taken our funding sources for granted?
  • Have we leveraged our credit lines, but not leveraged social capital?

Clearly, this restart is not limited to individual organizations but requires the collective wisdom and shared input of the broader communal sector, its funding arms-social service agencies-religious, cultural and educational networks, and public policy institutions in reimaging the Jewish future!

Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR, Los Angeles. His writings can be found on his website:

eJewish Philanthropy invites thoughtful responses, and action plan approaches, to Dr. Windmuellers ten-part assessment of immediate issues.