No Representation Without Conversation

To the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations,

In Deuteronomy 31, God instructs Moses to pass on the mantle of leadership. Moses turns to Joshua, puts his hands upon him and, in a moment of Divine Presence, Joshua becomes the leader of the Jewish people. For thousands of years, the Jewish people have passed on Torah and communal leadership, l’dor v’dor, from one generation to the next.

As two people deeply involved in and passionate about Jewish communal life, we fear that the number of modern day Joshuas, who happen to be our peers, is dwindling. This past week, we saw what intergenerational success looks like as an estimated four million people filled streets around the world to demand change, justice, and equality. These marches proved that young people are going into 2017 with passion and conviction, ready to make a difference in the world locally, nationally, and globally. Nonprofits, political parties, NGOs, and even corporations are swinging the door wide open to younger leadership, professional and lay, as a way to reposition and adapt to a quickly changing world. Those organizations that aren’t doing so are actively shortchanging their long term viability and relevance, and simultaneously alienating a significant portion of their support base who want to be meaningfully engaged.

In a TED Talk about the changing nature of democracy, Pia Mancini made clear that generations past decried “no taxation without representation,” whereas this generation operates on “no representation without conversation.” The difference is stark as young leaders everywhere are taking their rightful seat at the table, and actively participating in “the conversation.”

We wonder, are the Jewish organizations, that in many ways define the tapestry of the American Jewish world, opening seats at their decision-making tables to new voices? We don’t think so. And, if we don’t reverse this trend soon, we jeopardize the future of our Jewish organizations, and the Jewish people as a whole. We worry that too many of our Moses’ are without Joshuas in their midst.

Just over 2% of all nonprofit trustees are under the age of 30. More concerning, a majority of these young trustees are the sole member of their board in their age bracket. Young people represent over 20% of the population, and need to likewise represent a meaningful percentage of board members actively engaged in supporting our Jewish organizations. As the only two young people who serve on a very large board, we fear that assumptions are made that we alone can represent an entire generation. We can’t. And we need a more diverse group of peers at the table to represent the rich diversity our organizations aim to engage.

2017 needs to be a year of change. The era of the “token young person” is over. Young leaders on every level have valuable experience, expertise, and insight to share with organizations and causes for which they care. The window of opportunity is shrinking quickly, as a time will come when those passionate young people will turn elsewhere to lend their time and voices.

We ask the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations to make it a priority of top concern to require that by 2020, each constituent organization have a significant number of young adults serving in meaningful leadership roles on their boards.

If these 52 organizations lead by example, we are confident that it will have a ripple effect throughout the Jewish world. The time to be bold is now – we owe it to the Jewish world future generations will inherit.

If not now, when?

Most Sincerely,
Debbie Rabinovich
Andrew Keene

Debbie Rabinovich is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania double majoring in Urban Studies and Gender Studies. Debbie served as the North American President of NFTY (2014-2015), the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, and is currently a trustee on the board of the Union for Reform Judaism.

Andrew Keene is a business student at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. Andrew served as the North American President of NFTY (2013-2014), the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, and currently serves as a board member for the Union for Reform Judaism and the World Union for Progressive Judaism.