These Go To Eleven: Predictions for the Jewish World in 2011

It is exceedingly difficult to make predictions, particularly about the future.
Niels Bohr, Jewish/Danish Physicist & Nobel Laureate

The more one is engaged in the Jewish community the more one recognizes how the richness of its history, creativity and contradictions can inspire endeavors of investigation and understanding. In connection with the investigation of the past and the exhilaration of the present, we often are (or at least I am) drawn to the task of making predictions of the future, especially based on recent (or not so recent) experiences. We believe that what we know provides us a basis for what we might anticipate in the future. In some cases our insights lead to logical hypothesis, but in the absence of data, we sometimes make guesses based on ‘gut instincts.’ In any event, predictions provide us the opportunity to frame our future in a context we understand, anticipate and, on occasion, even dread.

I make no special claim as to my skills as a prognosticator of the Jewish future, but as a student of Jewish life and community, I have a few guesses for what we can anticipate in 2011. With that – here are my eleven predictions for ’11:

  1. Everything Old is New Again. During 2010, organizations with long histories found new ways to remain relevant and reenergized. The Jewish Agency’s new strategic plan, the Jewish National Fund’s invigorating reorientation, and the new energy Jeff Kaye is bringing to World ORT all point to a new renaissance for old organizations. Having spent so much time in recent years marveling at innovation in small organizations, 2011 will remind us that older, larger organizations can innovate as well.
  2. The Return of the Missing Philanthropist. The dampening of philanthropic giving that occurred during the past few years should slowly abate as individuals become more confident of their present and future financial security. But the donors that come back aren’t going to be the same as the ones that left – they will be more cautious, issue and outcome focused and, more than likely, incrementally philanthropic. Accordingly, how organizations adapt to the rebounding (but revised) philanthropic orientation of their donors will be a big story of 2011.
  3. Expanding World of Alternative Worship. Independent minyamin, alternative religious communities (such as Kavana) and online worship experiences (such as PunkTorah) are all trends that will continue to expand in 2011. New models of congregational life are nothing new, but the use of technology and social networking will accelerate the development of new initiatives in urban and suburban communities. Plus, taking a page from last year’s stellar book by Isa Aaron, Steven Cohen Lawrence Hoffman and Ari Kelman, synagogues will also increasingly seek to find the ‘Sacred Strategies’ to make their communities even more visionary.
  4. Expanding LGBTQ Inclusion. In the gay community, much of 2010 was about righting wrongs – repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and developing a much need campaign against bullying. In 2011 we will see the LBGTQ agenda poised to take up positive efforts related to enhancing inclusion in our communities and the leadership (volunteer and professional) of our Jewish community organizations. As the clouds of exclusion part, we could all benefit from including a rainbow of diversity in our communities, and this is the year to make that happen.
  5. Israel in the Balance. A great amount of effort is being invested in anti-BDS campaigns and initiatives. Nonetheless, young Jews don’t want to simply see Israel as a country they need to defend, but also as an idea and a place that they want to embrace. 2011 will be a year where the debate of who Israel is, what it stands for and what its future holds will take on an even greater sense of urgency as Jewish leaders search for ways to strike a balance between passion for the idea of Israel and defense of the State of Israel.
  6. Developing InfraSystems. We speak a lot about community infrastructure, but what we really need are stronger community infrasystems – systems that help us communicate, invigorate and evaluate opportunities in the Jewish world. Ideas such as the Jewish grantees network and other overarching initiative should come to light in 2011, as communities realize that bits and bytes are the new bricks and mortar.
  7. Microgrants. As philanthropist mindsets change but remain somewhat conservative, so will the size of grants. Plus the explosion of new Jewish organizations (supported by great community resources such as UpStart, J Space, PresenTense, Bikkurim and others) have created an amazing diversity of opportunities to fulfill philanthropic passions. With those two developments in mind, expect to see more grants to a greater number of Jewish start-ups, but in smaller amounts, in 2011.
  8. Moving Beyond the Paywall. In technology circles, the paywall is the barrier between the free online content and the content that you must pay for. In Jewish life there is a different paywall, we have created a culture where we lure young Jewish adults to embrace their identity with low-cost/no-cost opportunities such as Birthright and PJ Library, but expect them to pay high costs for other aspects of Jewish life. In 2011, look for increased discussion of how to get more people to pay for (not just participate) Jewish community services and resources beyond the paywall.
  9. Turning Silver(man) to Gold. Jewish Federations of North America is always under the microscope and with over a year of Jerry Silverman’s tenure behind us, expectations remain guarded but hope remains high. JFNA’s effective injection of influence in the conversion debate and a very successful GA in New Orleans (I predicted that, just in a different city), makes it an organization that finally appears to be headed in the right direction. With Tribefest and a rebounding economy ahead of him, look to 2011 as the year that Silverman turns JFNA golden.
  10. Ladies take charge. It sounds like a broken record, and it is – there are not enough women leading Jewish organizations in North America, and those who do are not getting paid as much as men. I predict (and hope) that in 2011 we will find more women taking on high-level roles (perhaps as the CEO of the Atlanta Federation or President of Jewish Funders Network) and the pay gaps shrink.
  11. I’ll be wrong. Like last year, of course I will get some of the above predictions wrong. (Remember my AIPAC/JStreet prediction from last year?) Accordingly, this is the only predication in which I have 100% confidence.

So as we turn the dial to ’11, those are my eleven predictions for the Jewish world. Like all prognostications, some are more wishes than others, but all of them give us reason to be optimistic that 2011 will be another exciting year of Jewish life and learning even if it is, well, unpredictable.

Seth A. Cohen, Esq. is an Atlanta-based attorney, activist and author on topics of Jewish communal life and innovation. He is a Vice Chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, First Vice President of Jewish Family and Career Services of Atlanta and member of the board of Joshua Venture Group. Seth can be contacted directly at seth.cohen [at]