Necessity, as the saying goes, is the mother of invention. The economy is forcing many in the Jewish communal world to find new ways to save money while also offering the same services that their constituents have come to expect over the years. This means, as Felicia Herman of the Natan Fund and Dana Raucher of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation said in a recent JTA op-ed, many are rethinking their priorities and how the Jewish community as a whole is organized.
Herman and Raucher say they have been “hearing calls for greater consolidation” like in the olden days, but they have a different prescription – de-centralization. Smaller non-profits that reach specific audiences, they say, are more indicative of American culture as a whole. There has been a “a revolution in the way that people connect, organize and affiliate, brought about by technological advancements that have dramatically shaped our ways of looking at the world.”
So what does this “revolution in the way people connect” mean for the Jewish future? And is this a good sign? Herman and Raucher turn to the findings of a new report (commissioned by the Natan Fund, the SBF and Jumpstart) titled “The Innovation of Ecosystem: Emergence of a New Jewish Landscape.” The report was a survey of “American Jewish start-ups.” They write:
We found more than 300 geographically diverse organizations that in 2008 alone reached more than 400,000 people and represented a $100 million economy. Far from being a fringe phenomenon for outliers, these organizations engage and integrate populations that existing Jewish organizations have struggled to reach as well as people who are highly connected to traditional Jewish communal life.
Similarly, participation in these organizations should not be understood as a solely youth-centric trend: These organizations integrate participants under 45 — Millennials and Generation Xers — with a healthy proportion of older constituents. Taken together, this array of organizations, with disparate missions and purposes, offers a multitude of access points to Jewish life that resonate across generations and degrees of “affiliation” within the Jewish community.
So they found having more organizations for those on the periphery is a positive change. But how do we know they’re succeeding? Herman and Raucher point out that nearly every “young organization” they have funded recently has struggled to keep up with “an ever increasing demand for their programs and services.”
The term “access points” comes up a lot in their op-ed, and perhaps that’s the most important notion of the Jewish future. People today don’t want to subscribe to one particular “brand” of Judaism – they want to belong in a way that’s meaningful to them. Perhaps having more small-scale organizations that offer a wider range of options for engagement – and therefore more access points – will encourage people to explore Judaism and find for themselves the value and importance of leading a Jewish life.
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