I have been doing a lot of thinking about the future of the North American Jewish community, even before our recent conference Judaism2030. Perhaps that is one of the things that motivated us to plan the conference in the first place. But the conference was just the beginning. We have a lot more work to do if we are going to help guide the Jewish community successfully to the year 2030. I often like to say that historians—when they write about this period of time—will name this epoch as the “epoch of transition.” We are not yet sure when it will end and, quite frankly, it is not even clear when it actually began. I am persuaded (influenced by the author of The Starfish and the Spider) that the period begin with the introduction of Napster which was the beginning of decentralization in the marketplace. Some people blame the current state on the deterioration of the economy. However, economic decline only expedited (and in some cases exacerbated) matters. A diminished economy did not cause the predicament in which the Jewish community finds itself. The only thing of which we can be sure is that the Jewish community will look nothing at the end of this period like it looked when it began. We just don’t know exactly what it will look like.
So as we consider what the Jewish community will look like, which institutions will survive and which will have to be “sunsetted,” and which will emerge anew, I want to introduce one notion into the conversation. Most of the time we talk about non-profit institutions and organizations when we speak about the Jewish community. Yet this membership model, which has sustained a large segment of the community for the last two generations, is at significant risk and we have to look for alternatives. That is why I think we have to ask about the role of for-profit institutions in the community. By doing so, we may gain insights into as to how to finance the future of the community, something that is on the minds of most every leader in the community today. This is particularly important since Napster and the decentralization it caused has spawned the notion, especially for the generation of the so-called millennials, that nothing has to or should be paid for. Consider programs like Birthright Israel, perhaps the most game-changing program in this generation. It is totally free for those who participate in it.
So if we look at for-profit institutions, and consider their role in the organized Jewish community, we may be able to gain some insight as to how to shape business plans for those many organizations and institutions that dot the familiar landscape of most Jewish communities in North America. And as we do so, it is important to invite these businesses into the Big Tent of the Jewish community.
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