On Leaders and Lions: a Response

[In Response to Idit Klein’s article On Leaders and Lions]

by KB Levin

I agree that it is imperative that the Federation system becomes more relevant and inclusive of multiple young populations; in fact, engagement is my number one priority, followed closely by rebranding.

Those of us in the Federation system and Young Leadership Divisions (YLDs) need to create a culture of engagement such that we reach out to young Jews (ages 22-40) by meeting them where they stand currently and help to facilitate connections for networking, meaningful personal relationships, and dynamic programming. YLDs need to shift from creating one or two leaders a year to crafting a culture wherein we entrust community members to become the engagers themselves. It is, after all, their future. It’s the idea that the future isn’t limited to only the few leaders with affluence that we train to take the reigns, but, in fact, an attainable and inclusive responsibility of all young Jews. As a member of this population myself, I recognize the responsibility we have to own our Jewish experience. This “New Generation” that everyone is very worried about has already sprouted amazing young Jewish innovators and projects that strive to challenge the young and unaffiliated into defining their Jewish Identity in a way that is meaningful and personal. Federations need to follow this lead and shift the trend from phone calls simply for the collection of donations to coffee dates for solicitations, bar nights for gathering, and concerts for fun, all for more personal relationship building. We must make a philosophical switch to include and serve the whole Jewish person; this kind of change has begun happening all over America today.

We make the shift through the concept of inclusivity. By posing the difficult questions pertaining to Jewish Identity and providing resources we allow participants to answer those questions for themselves and their families. By facilitating the opening of portals of positive interaction, opportunities for the creation of significant relationships, and providing vibrant events that are target and goal specific, the Jewish Federation can become the place and the people with whom to be. The same vision Zayde had of community but with more color, vibrancy and splash, and with a stronger emphasis on the individual’s role within said community.

We shouldn’t lose sight that the Federation is, at its core, an organization that supports the local Jewish community and world Jewry. Federation is an organization that creates opportunities to build community, to learn, to deepen Jewish experiences, to meet a cross-section of people, and to be exposed to multiple vehicles for helping others. It is true that money is needed to fuel all of that, but central to it’s mission is providing the opportunity to be involved in something bigger: the Jewish enterprise. Federations around the country are currently implementing strategic planning processes, creating new marketing tools, teaching staff how to utilize social media, and even investing in new staff to cultivate new relationships and reinvigorate old ones. Yes, Federations have a lot of work to do to rebrand, refocus, and retool but we also rely on our funded agencies to help with that process. We at Federation are listening, and we are trying to change, to grow and to be the kind of “Big Tent” organization today’s young participants are asking for; but our transformation can’t be done in a vacuum. While the challenge is formidable, all of us must be partners in this effort. We can do this by acknowledging what we do well (and we do a lot very well), while striving to change and adapt to the realities of modernity. To quote Nigel Savage, Executive Director of Hazon in a recent article, “ … there’s no other entity that’s capable of doing the range of good that a Federation does, with one single check”.

When looking at my engagement process I love to say: “We need money to get the job done, but we need the people to have a job to do”. I’d like us not to forget that it goes the other way as well: “We need the people to have the job, but we need the dollars to get the job done”. That’s true of any Jewish agency. It’s kitschy, I know, but the cliché is true: “Together, we can do a world of good”.

KB Levin is Director, Young Leadership & Programming at Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York.