Reinvigorating Jewish Peoplehood: The Philanthropic Perspective

In cooperation with the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education, eJewish Philanthropy is pleased to once again bring our readers the latest version of The Peoplehood Papers: Reinvigorating Jewish Peoplehood: The Philanthropic Perspective.

from Shlomi Ravid, the publications editor:

“We dedicated this issue to the role philanthropy plays, and can play, in reinvigorating Jewish Peoplehood. The authors of the articles in this edition of the Peoplehood Papers represent a sample of the largest and most active funders and organizations in the area of Jewish community, education and welfare in Canada, Europe, Israel and the United States. We bring you their articles posted in alphabetical order except for the collection’s introductory article written by my colleague Ezra Kopelowitz and myself.”

Peoplehood Philanthropy – Some Reflections on the State of the Field
by Shlomi Ravid and Ezra Kopelowitz

For a People who chronically complain it cannot define what peoplehood means, this collection of philanthropic perspectives presents a very different picture: The essays in this volume document a wealth of innovation based on substantial research, thorough planning and creative experimentation in reinvigorating Jewish Peoplehood. One could actually say that for those concerned for the future of Jewish Peoplehood this is one of the more optimistic conversations we have encountered to date.

Peoplehood is clearly a topic of rising concern and gaining momentum among Jewish philanthropists and communal organizations. Over the past several years, we can observe a shift from a focus on welfare and educational services to individual Jews or the support of communities in need to a reframing of these same issues through the collective prism. Jewish philanthropies are paving the way to a new synthesis between individualistic and pluralistic expressions of Judaism and the collective’s voice. They are also enabling younger generations to seek meaning and purpose in the Jewish collective enterprise of the future.

Andres Spokoiny of the Jewish Funders Network writes: “Peoplehood is what mathematicians call a ‘necessary but not sufficient’ condition. Peoplehood is the platform upon which our community of purpose is built; there is intrinsic value in peoplehood, and the creation of links of solidarity and belonging can solve one of the biggest crises of our time. But, as the crises of belonging and meaning are intertwined, peoplehood must serve as a platform for Jews to find meaning beyond simply belonging.”

All the contributions to this edition of the Peoplehood Papers embrace the shift to Peoplehood. Their philanthropic strategies differ as do the constituencies they focus on, but not their ultimate goal nor their willingness to collaborate with other philanthropic entities in addressing the Peoplehood challenge. The focus of the authors provides insights into the current state of affairs, both in terms of that which is of concern and that which is not, and who is at the table, and who is not.

A strong focus on school age and young adults

Much of current “Peoplehood philanthropy” focuses on school aged children and young adults – “the Next generation”. Indeed this focus is reflected in most of the papers in this volume. As Jeff Solomon from the Bronfman Foundation notes:” The greatest opportunity is with the plurality of young Jews that are proudly Jewish but have not had the education or experiences to make it central in their lives”. That approach led the Bronfman Foundation in collaboration with others to launch Birthright, and pursue with developing leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation through Reboot, 21/64, Grand Street and Slingshot, to name just a few.

Need for creativity

Most of the authors (although not all) argue that we must grapple with the changing nature of young Jews’ Jewish belonging by engaging in creative and dynamic organizational and educational solutions.

Lisa Eisen from the Schusterman Foundation writes: “Indeed, at the heart of our Foundation’s efforts to cultivate Jewish peoplehood is this idea of nurturing the individual Jewish journeys of young adults and ensuring they are inextricably bound up in strengthening the journey of the whole”. By launching creative programs such as ROI and by supporting many others programs that promote a pluralistic Peoplehood with young Jewish individuals in its center, it works to “put the people back into Peoplehood”.

Felicia Herman from the Natan Foundation brings into the conversation the story of a young foundation and the route it traveled into Peoplehood philanthropy. “Natan’s grantmaking is in a perennially dynamic state, balancing both the evolving and varied interests of Natan’s many members with the evolving needs of the field and the frequent innovations and innovators that are emerging to address the multiple challenges facing the Jewish people”. The fusion between the way the Foundation operates and the development of its Peoplehood philanthropy embodies the transformation of the philanthropic paradigm.

Joining the Jewish People in order to better humanity

A complementary trend to the focus on young people, is a the strong desire expressed by several of the authors to build to Peoplehood by stressing the Jewish contribution to the world. For example, Shoshana Gelfand Boyd from JHUB of the London based Pears Foundation describes an approach which aims at the “young generation” but includes a new vision for Jewish peoplehood: “We at JHub have witnessed how the global Jewish social action movement is growing and we want to help build the organizations, people and projects which can support it and allow it to become the next generation’s ‘Soviet Jewry Movement’.”

A focus on Jewish communal infrastructure and literacy

A counter current stresses the need to look inwards, with the need to buttress Jewish communal institutions and deepen Jewish literacy.

Yossi Prager from the Avi Chai Foundation links the focus of their strategic intervention to the belief that “day school and summer camps provide the foundation for the energizing nucleus of the next generation of North American Jews”. As to the content, according to Avi Chai “the key measure of Jewish peoplehood success is whether participants develop an unconditional attachment and sense of responsibility to other Jews and the State of Israel”.

Sally Berkovic from Rothschild brings a unique European perspective into the conversation. The foundation focuses on advancing Jewish literacy and Jewish Academic study – “for without understanding basic concepts of the Jewish lifecycle, the Jewish calendar, Jewish history and Jewish texts, it’s hard to make a rational case for feeling connected in a meaningful way to the Jewish people”. She calls on world Jewry to learn from and build on the Jewish European story.

Rabbi David Gedzelman from the Steinhardt Foundation – one of the co-founders of the Birthright Israel program, proposes the teaching of Hebrew as a potential future lynchpin for Jewish Peoplehood: “Creating platforms by which Jews and others around the world can learn Hebrew should be one strategy in an overall educational program by which Jewish Peoplehood might be built on a foundation of knowledge, understanding and connection”.

Shana Penn from the Taube Foundation and Danielle Foreman from the Koret Foundation share the story of the Koret Taube Peoplehood Initiative. It is unique in offering a strategic approach to bringing Peoplehood to a community – the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish community, through its Jewish Community Centers and various other institutions. An additional component of the Initiative is the philanthropic intervention in the “contemporary resurgence of Jewish culture” in Poland as “a key component of the future of Jewish life globally”.

The role of central communal organizations

Central to the Peoplehood shift is a complementary conversation about the role of large, central communal organizations. Many of the authors embrace the need for supporting start-up organizations or autonomous, business-oriented operations such as Birthright as a response to the challenges of contemporary Jewry. Large central communal organizations are developing various responses to this change in the philanthropic paradigm.

David Mallach and Sanford Antignas, writing on behalf of the Commission on the Jewish People of the UJA Federation of New York, document their shift to Peoplehood and the strategic approach behind it: “UJA-Federation of New York has been focusing on Jewish Peoplehood in the 21st century context for more than a decade, funding programs and research and development. It has sought to act as a catalyst, convener and connector. These programs have ranged from funding tri-lateral programmatic relationships between organizations in New York, Israel and a third country; to convening and funding the Global Task Force on Jewish Peoplehood Education to begin development of ‘how to make Peoplehood happen in practice’ in various educational settings.”

Misha Galperin from JAFI grapples with the challenge of making Jews understand that if they stand to benefit from a global system they need to fund it. In view of current trends in the world of philanthropy and the way Jews view their collective institutions, he calls for the creation of a tzedaka/peoplehood curriculum to address the challenge: “We need a values curriculum that creates a shared lexicon of responsibility”.

Steve Schwager of JDC asks if the current philanthropic paradigm spells out the end of the large organizations. He believes that if they make the right adjustments they can succeed and thrive in this new environment, bringing benefits and resources that smaller organizations cannot. He concludes that: “one needs to be careful not to rush to the conclusion that large agencies are doomed to be extinct in this new ‘Jewish Peoplehood’ environment”.

Rebecca Caspi of JFNA echoes similar sentiments. “Jewish Peoplehood in action” she claims is “rallying Jews and Jewish communities within North America and around the world to be connected, responsible, identified and inspired”. “In the 21st century”, she adds, “this requires sensitivity to the changes in our culture, the need to be relevant for this generation, to be inclusive and to provide a big tent so that the imperative notion of Jewish family, of Peoplehood, will indeed hold firm”.

Let us continue this conversation – it is vital!

We hope that the conversation in these pages of the Peoplehood Papers will add to and encourage the wave of Philanthropic interest in Peoplehood. There is vital need for organized discussion to help create connections between philanthropists and community organizations and round out and deepen the understanding that any one of us has of the Peoplehood phenomenon.

Here are some of the questions that arise from a reading of these Peoplehood Papers, which we think are vital for continuing this Peoplehood conversation:

1. Where are the adults?
Almost all of the authors focus on school aged children and young adults. What of the adults who send their children, serve as board members and volunteers? Surely the people who “make it happen” are vital for the continued expansion of Peoplehood consciousness!

2. What is the communal capacity for Peoplehood?
How does philanthropic intervention lead to increased communal capacity for Peoplehood? The authors in this volume who focus on organizations and their work are touching on a core issue that deserves greater attention – what must change in the way our philanthropists and communal organizations operate in order to sustain and expand the shift to Peoplehood?

3. Engaging the Israelis in the Peoplehood Conversation
With the notable exception of the NADAV Foundation, few philanthropists have systematically focused on the Peoplehood potential in Israeli society. Reengaging the Jewish State in the conversation about the Jewish collective is crucial to the future of this conversation.

4. Developing the field of Peoplehood education
Finally, most of the philanthropic interventions described in this collection focus on specific target audiences and programs. There are clearly issues and areas where coordination and collaboration will create a whole that is much bigger than its individual parts – the development of a common language, of training infrastructure and educational programing, and of the research essential to the development of the field of Peoplehood identity building. For this reason, it is our hope that the conversations found in the coming pages, will continue to develop and grow.

Dr. Shlomi Ravid and Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz are Fellows at the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.

This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 7 – Reinvigorating Jewish Peoplehood: The Philanthropic Perspective; published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.