The GA is the annual meeting of all the leaders, donors, professionals and partners of 157 Jewish Federations and 400 independent communities across North America. Those of us who keep a close watch on the organized Jewish community are very familiar with this network of organizations. They represent the main fundraising arm of the Jewish world in North America and fund the bulk of Jewish communal efforts. Typically a local Federation will raise funds which are then split one way or another between local needs and Israeli charitable concerns. There is hardly a major manifestation of Jewish communal life in North America that isn’t in one way or another supported by the Federations and many of Israel’s charitable ventures are similarly supported. From feeding the poor, to taking care of the elderly, to promoting Jewish education and culture – your local Federation is there helping to make it happen.

David Abitbol, aka "ck" of Jewlicious in Haaretz

David Abitbol, aka ck of Jewlicious in Haaretz

And yet… in an informal survey of about 50 of my past Taglit Birthright Israel participants, only 6 knew what the Federation or the GA was and 4 of those actually worked for a Federation or Federation sponsored organization. Many are critical of the Federations, particularly in regards to their accessibility, transparency and responsiveness to the needs of the millennial generation. Those are the children of the baby boomers who are in larger and larger numbers, opting out of Jewish communal life or opting to go the independent route whenever manifesting their Jewish identities.

Keeping with that theme, I kind of went on a tear at a Café at the shuk and Raphael Ahren of Ha’aretz was there to record it and publish it in his paper.

“When some people, who want to do cool and interesting things, approach the organized Jewish communities and federations, more often than not they get resistance – in terms of money, in terms of support, in terms of anything,” Abitbol said last week during an interview in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market. “That is, if they even know to go there. Take your average kid who goes on [a] birthright [trip] and talk to him about the federations, he’ll have no idea what you’re talking about. We’re in a state of such horrific Jewish illiteracy – and I am not talking about the Ten Commandments and Moses, I am talking about everything: Kids are not participating, nor are they invested, in the communal Jewish structure.”

Raphael was kind enough to edit out all the cuss words. I hope I didn’t come off as too harsh – we’ll see if they let me into the GA later today – I expect we’ll have a lot to say about the coming events over the next few days.

About the author

ck

Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.

14 Comments

  • Maybe someday the GA will feature a Next Gen panel, and listen to some younger people who are involved in such innovative initiatives and who can advise them on how to move forward.

    Wait a minute….

  • I suppose the problems arise on both ends of the system: established orgs aren’t too interested in leaving the beaten paths or investing in what might not turn out well (in Europe, many congregations are struggling financially to begin with), and those youths that do get involved in community matters on whatever level do so, because their families already had a history of being involved plus they didn’t experience the involvement in religious / congregational projects as something embarrassing / restrictive as children.

    Also, as I see a lot among my students, who are young adults, many lack the patience and determination it takes to pursue and realize an idea; money is only a secondary issue. [I’ve never had any serious problems finding sponsors for whatever project I was involved in; many businesses are glad to donate money or goods, particularly since in most Western countries such donations are tax-deductible. MPs here have got generous funds to invite youth groups to visit parliament and talk to politicians (plus three-day upscale hotels stays, restaurants and sight admission fees paid for). As I know from a visit to the Knesset years ago, there are similar arrangements in Israel.]

    Many of my students generation care more for instant fame than sustainability of their (innovative) ideas. Maybe you could encourage youths to get more involved if they had to present their ideas at an auditioning on national TV.

  • Well I think the main problem is Esther is that they keep referring to us “kids” as the “next generation.” We are not the next generation – we are the now.

  • Esther: What’s changed in a year? Has significant progress been made? I see a lot of lip service but I also see a lot of people struggling to be heard. And the worst part is, most millennials are simply opting out. So I commend our organized Jewish community for any and all progress that they’ve made in this regard – but I don’t think we’ve reached a point where I can comfortably stop kvetching.

  • Seriously, if all of us with a platform stop kvetching and speaking out about this, whatever progress that has been made will grind to a halt. Our voices have made some impression; there’s a significant distance still to go, but we can’t stop.

  • I’ve been searching in my local area (South Florida) for a federation/ ANY organization job but the problem is that there are no jobs! For someone like me, who wants to get into this as a career (even at an entry level position) it seems a bit daunting. Perhaps it’s the area? the economy? or I just don’t have the right ‘connections’? I hope this conference will address making more jobs available for the new post-birthright generation.

  • Harry, I know I’m not the next generation. I’m firmly planted in my now. Although if we’re the next generation, that takes the pressure off: we don’t have to do anything until we’re the current generation.

    And, I am conducting an experiment: what happens when a NY gal lands herself in a new big Jewish city? Will she find innovation and creativity? Will she find that those values are sought out in her new environment, or is there nothing new, even under the November sun?

  • Stephanie, have you tried jewishjobs.com? Give it a whirl. If that doesn’t work, email me at jdatersanonymous at gmail dot com and I’ll hook you up with someone in S. Florida who can help you.

  • CK and Dan, I wasn’t for a minute saying that we should just “go gently into that good night” and fade away, kvetch-wise. If there’s no more kvetching, I’m out of blog-business.

    My point was just what was already said: that it takes more than a “NextGen” panel one year. After I spoke last year, all of us were bombarded with business cards from Federation people in local communities who wanted us to come and consult with them on technology and innovation, and on courting a new generation of leadership. The week after the convention, I followed up, and no one responded. (I think Dan Sieradski did a little better with people following up with him, but still…) A resounding silence akin to that of daters who are really excited by people they meet at speed dating, and who demand their contact information, to never call again.

    If there’s no follow-up on the local or national level the next year, and in years to come, there’s little point in having the forum to begin with.

  • ck is right. And so is Dan Sieradski. The fact that the two of you agree to some degree should raise people’s eyes a bit. It’s kind of like a dotcommer Rava and Abayei agreeing on something. That be a “lo plug.”

    But read the Federation paper’s like the Federation owned and operated “independent” NY Jewish Week, and the only problem you will read about structurally is that there needs to be more women at the top.

    Others too. Look: http://www.jewcy.com/post/norway_experiment?page=0#comment-28333

  • DK,

    If you’re referring to the Dan commenting here, I’m not Dan Sieradski. I doubt you’ll ever find him agreeing with ck let alone posting on Jewlicious these days.

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