By Seth Cohen
“Gam zu l’tova. This too is for the good.”
Nachum Ish Gamzu, (Talmud, Taanit, 21a)
At the start of every year I find myself asking the same question: what is the purpose of a prediction? For some, the act of prediction is an effort of alarmism, and in contrast others see prognostication as an aspirational act. For me personally, I have found the act of exploring predictions as a combination of both. Yet at the start of 2019, notwithstanding those who predict a more pessimistic future (whether it is political, ecological, or technological), I have once again found myself looking at the year ahead with an abundance of optimism – not necessarily about our circumstances, but certainly about our ability to influence our future. So with that in mind, below are my top seven predictions for the coming year:
The FiveGen Future. With Gen Z (born after 2001) entering the workforce and many of the members of the Silent Generation (born 1928-1945) still gainfully working, 2019 will mark the first time that five generations coexist in both the workforce and volunteer/leadership arenas. While much has been written about the millennial impact on the nature of work, in 2019 Generation Z (also known as post-millennial) will start to make a substantial contribution to the changing dynamics of the Jewish professional world. While there is a risk that that out community will move too slowly to integrate the creativity and skill of the new generational entrants to community work, I predict smart leadership will quickly understand the potential of a FiveGen workplace and succeed at harnessing the power of intergenerational perspective.
Reimagined Rabbinate. Along with the overall changes in the workforce, perhaps some of the most exciting changes will be how the rabbinate (particularly in the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements) continue to change. Generational succession will bring a new cadre of Gen X/Millennial rabbis and rabbahs with new ideas both inside and beyond the pulpit. With their new roles, they will have the potential to reshape the way we understand the role of the rabbinate in a radically different world than their predecessors entered (and often maintained). Similarly, a new generation of rabbinical students will start the year with a very different idea of what it means to be a spiritual leader. I predict that in 2019 we will see an accelerating understanding (and hopefully appreciation) of the power and potential of the contemporary rabbinate to help shepherd us through these tumultuous times.
Free (Falling). Much of the past 20 years of Jewish young adult engagement has been predicated on the basis of “free” – free trips (e.g. Birthright), free programs, and free meals. The theory, many of us shared, is that if they see how good it is when it is ‘free’ then they will eventually pay for it. Except… they’re not. Not only that, but in an era when “free” prompts social skepticism (“what’s the agenda?”) more than a sense of actionable gratitude, the fundamental premise is now called into question. I predict that in the year ahead we will more seriously grapple with the reformulation of what ‘value’ means in the context of Jewish experiences and how we price, not just gift, that value for the consumers.
Radical Inclusivity. While awareness of engaging the full range of the identity the Jewish community has (importantly) grown this past year, one cannot help but feel we continue to substantially fall short. No doubt there are significant philanthropic resources being contributed to fostering inclusivity, yet it feels like we still haven’t hit the tipping point of an inclusive communal mindset. I predict in 2019 we do hit a tipping point where there is a much greater focus (and funding) on how we embrace individuals with diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds, different gender and physical/ability identities, and multi-faith identities. If nothing else, because failing to do so is one of the greatest risks of 2019.
Engaging the PEH (Progressive, Environmental, Humanistic) Jews. A greatest risk for what, you might ask? The risk of losing a generation of some of our most promising young leaders who understand how to express their voices and values in ways that we never could have previously imagined. Through the power of social media and innovative communication strategies, the next generation of leaders know how to be a mouth (peh) of a Judaism that is progressive, environmentally-focused and humanistic (PEH). They are challenged by the particular, excited by the universal, and they very much see radical inclusivity as fundamental aspect of the Jewish community (and State of Israel) that they would be willing to embrace. In 2019 I predict that we will have some much-needed breakthroughs about how we engage, and ideally embrace, the PEH. Because if we don’t do it now, then “when” might not be a possibility.
Big Possibilities for Big Jewish Organizations. I’ll admit I am always a shameless optimist when it comes to the potential of the larger “legacy” organizations in the Jewish world to reinvent themselves (and these haven’t always been my most successful predictions to date). But hope springs eternal, and this year brings the opportunity for some exciting changes in a few key legacy organizations. As JFNA selects a new CEO to lead it into the future, there is a potential that she (or he) will be able to harness a much greater “network of networks” mindset for an organization that will both strategically support a field of community-based philanthropy, and also revisit the possibility of true national vision-building. Similarly, new leadership at the Jewish Agency (ideally with an empowered group of women executive leaders) has the potential to take an important leadership role in Diaspora/Israel engagement. At the JDC, essential programs like Entwine and Junction (JDC’s European young adult leadership initiative) provide the opportunity to engage a next generation of leaders in essential humanitarian and community-building work around the world. All I can predict for 2019 is these organizations have the possibility to make bold strokes for their futures – only they can make the prediction a reality.
Focus on the Muslim/Jewish Future. Last, but by no means least, I predict that 2019 will be a significant year for the deepening of Muslim/Jewish community relations. While there are those who suggest that the Israel/Palestine conflict makes these relations necessarily fraught, I am optimistic that new cadres of leaders of both faiths will see how our community interests intertwine in ways that are both new, and deeply rooted in history. Much like in Israel, there is a deeper appreciation for Arabic language and culture, I think we will find 2019 brings us more opportunities to learn together and to support one another both from external threats we share and intrinsic values that make us much more similar than different.
There you have it: seven predictions for the year ahead. Some might be bolder than others, but all are predicated on the idea that, in the end, (and in the words of the optimistic Tannanic rabbi Nachum Ish Gazmu) all of what we will do this year is too for the good. I predict that too will be the case for 2019 – and with our hopes and prayers, may it be so.
Seth Cohen is the founder of Applied Optimism, a consulting and community design lab that helps organizations and leaders design optimistic solutions to complex organizational, communal and individual challenges. Seth can be reached at [email protected] and at www.appliedoptimism.com