Rebuilding Our Global Jewish Family

As 5771 approaches, some thoughts from Dan Brown, eJewish Philanthropy’s founder:

The face of Jewish philanthropy is continually changing and only time will tell if we are in the midst of evolution or a revolution. Philanthropy, which has always been a powerful force in the Jewish community, is – once again – witnessing a significant shift in both perception and management. Today’s philanthropists are more proactive, draw on a wide range of resources and seek greater efficiency and effectiveness. They also appear to be taking a longer-range view of their individual, or institutional, giving.

Our Jewish organizational world is changing. Storied organizations as diverse as the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the Jewish Theological Seminary and the World Jewish Congress are just three of the many crafting new visions in order to better meet the needs of those they serve.

Our world is also changing and with it the challenges faced by the State of Israel and by the Jewish people. Just as realizing the miracle of our modern state required the combined strength of the Jewish collective, so too, do the challenges we face today.

Jews around the world enjoy a level of success, comfort and influence unmatched in history. Our social awareness and desire to contribute to society are unrivaled. Our greatest strength as a people has always been our solidarity and cohesion; our adaptability, our innovation and our vitality. This has been the glue that has held us together.

At present, we enjoy unlimited, and diverse, gateways to Jewish life. Wherever in the world one sits, a multitude of formal and informal Jewish learning opportunities are available to all ages; many and varied possibilities for engaging in tikun olam are emerging, and there is much, much more.

Yet, at the same time, traditional Jewish organizations fail to inspire large numbers of our people. Outside of the Orthodox world, we are challenged to remain together as a Jewish collective with a strong sense of purpose; challenged to connect to a new generation; challenged to build a thriving future.

As a global community we are divided: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or simply “just Jewish”; secular and religious. Here in Israel, add Ashkenazim and Sephardim to the mix of division. Too often we forget we are one people and that we must remain one people.

As parents, we must wonder what part Judaism will play in our childrens’ lives as they reach adulthood. Will they connect with our Jewish family – will they even want to? For we are not only our own family, but we are a global family. Whether one lives in the Jewish Autonomous Region of eastern Russia, Mumbai, New York or Tel Aviv, we are all searching not only for connection but for greater meaning. We are searching for a sense of identity.

It has been said that the glue that holds us together is loosening; that our 3,000 years of solidarity and continuity is coming unstuck; that we are turning one of our greatest strengths into a weakness, one that may inhibit our ability to respond to the challenges of today.

At the June meeting of the JAFI Board of Governors, Director-General Alan Hoffmann – in discussing the Agency’s new strategic plan – said that the “issue of the future of the Jewish people as a people is the bigger issue we are facing.”

Here on eJewish Philanthropy as we approach 5771, we will build on our work of the past three years. And we will continue to look at that bigger issue Hoffmann spoke of. From an array of perspectives, we will comment on some of what is happening around our Jewish world today, the changes taking place and the change-makers driving change.

I – for one – believe the glass is half-full; I believe that when put together, our community is thriving. While certainly faced with challenges, we are also faced with opportunities.

I believe we have both the opportunity, and the desire, to create the needed new infrastructure for global Jewish life. I believe that the generations of young adults, those born roughly between 1974 and 2000, have been inspired by the aspirations, hopes and financial freedom of their [mostly] Baby Boomer parents; they are optimistic, idealistic and feel empowered. They are busy chasing their dreams.

I strongly believe this young crowd, with their own definition of Judaism, is the harbinger of a new golden age of Jewish communal innovation and growth. I believe we can reach previously unknown heights.

Around the globe, there are thousands of grass-roots Jewish activists and community builders; idealists and trend setters who are embracing the challenges of our future. Our community is fortunate to have them, and others, creating new programs on a shoestring, armed with just an idea, birthing exciting, fresh and interesting vehicles.

There is a renewed sense of desire, and strength, to rebuild our global Jewish family. The will exists – even among some of the established, and perhaps obsolete, Jewish organizations. They recognize it is about not only connection, but conversation; about discovery and about leverage.

They also know we collectively need to reinvigorate and rebuild our global Jewish family in order for them to survive as prime players.

They know the time has come to step up, to be counted in; to define a clear sense of purpose, a clear vision for their, and our, future.

They know our community demands nothing less.