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Memo to the (Federation) File: The Morning After – Way After

September 4, 2008

Recently I attended a Saturday evening social event hosted by the Young Leadership Council (YLC) of the Atlanta Federation. The theme was a Bar/Bat Mitzvah throwback party with all the accompaniments – mini hotdogs included (although it is hard to imagine many of the party-goes actually had Duran Duran played at the B’nai Mitzvah party, well… many people other than me).  Regardless of what role you believe Federation should have in community engagement, it is hard not to get excited about events like this… seeing hundreds of young Jewish professionals gathering in a social setting – talking, smiling and moving to the music. From the youngest to the oldest, there were diverse individuals with two overarching bonds – being Jewish and being together.

But more than the feeling – the fundamentals of the evening were solid. There was some subtle but good branding, although I suspect that the education messaging might have been lost on many of the attendees (at least after they had a few drinks).  And unlike the tendency at so many Jewish events, there was no “ask” other than to bring one or two items of canned or dried food for the local Kosher food pantry.  By the time my wife and I left the party (at the same time it seemed the more hip attendees were arriving) there was a 50-60 person line deep to get in.  Now you just don’t see that at many events where Federations convene young adults.  Rather than trying to have young Jews meet Federation on its terms, the Atlanta Federation was meeting them on their terms. In their part of town and in a way in which they wanted to be met, these Jews were being engaged in a personally relevant way. They might not have been educated about community, and they might not have been empowered to make change – but they were certainly engaged. And that is really exciting.

But unfortunately, that was the easy part.

The hard part is the planning, managing and evaluation of all that needs to happen after an event like the one I just described.  And the challenge is best captured in a comment that was made by a friend as we walked out of the party that evening.  Looking at the long line of waiting attendees, and with the ringing of the evening revelry in his ears, he turned to me and said “really great evening, but I wonder what will happen the morning after.”

Interesting question – but one that needs to be coupled with a section question:

Which morning after?

Certainly on the morning immediately following the engagement event certain things should happen. But I am not certain any of those things should be expected of the attendees. The community professionals need to use dynamic technologies to rapidly and responsibly follow-up with the attendees, with a thank- you email, a link to some of the evening’s photos (which become almost instantly ubiquitous on Facebook anyway), and even some upcoming events/opportunities (each of these activities were undertaken by the Atlanta Federation, which has continued to develop and refine its process on follow-up in a very effective manner).

However, the ‘morning after’ follow-up does not consist of just voicing thanks for the memories, but also communicating possibilities for future memories.  And just as critically, the ‘morning after’ is the time to continue planning and preparing for the future engagement moments that manifest on a personal and community level.  Because while the ‘night before’ might be a ‘Jewish moment’ –  we need to continue to recognize that the Jewish moments we create are not singular in nature, but moments that connect to other moments, and then others, and so on.  When we look at the engagement opportunities as Jewish moments (rather than ‘programming’) we begin to create both timely and timeless Jewish connections. And that is what Jewish engagement is about isn’t it?   Connecting Jews to the continuum of Jewish life, learning and experiences rarely occurs in just in one moment, but more often it takes many moments.  And many ‘morning afters.’

So that goes back to the earlier question: which ‘morning after’ should we wonder about?

We need to think hard about that question, because its answer will dictate the planning we make for future Jewish moments, and the way we will measure success.  If we think the very next morning after will result in more contributions, more bequests and more phone-a-than volunteers, then we will likely be disappointed.  Because the next morning after for many of those young Jews will be… well…sleeping in.   Brunch with friends. The things that young Jews do when they are not being engaged Jewishly – living their lives in the places and ways they want to live them. The next morning will not likely be a transformative moment in which the attendees suddenly have an epiphany about the value of Jewish philanthropy. They will not suddenly concern themselves with  the plights of Jews in the Former Soviet Union or in southern Israel.  They will not immediately become donors. And that is why the very ‘next morning’ after is the wrong morning on which we should focus.

The morning after we need to watch is that ‘morning after’ in the future, not too soon but not too far. In that future ‘morning after’ we may find that the Jewish moment at the dance club led to another Jewish moment in which a Jewish romance was kindled. Or perhaps it led to a moment where an opportunity for a Jewish service experience was communicated and realized, all because of a follow-up emails.  Maybe that night at the club put in motion a series of moments where individuals ultimately begin to explore Jewish community with Jewish friends, start Jewish families with plans for Jewish children, and begin to give back with Jewish hearts and generosity.   Maybe there were many Jewish moments and many ‘morning afters’ – all leading to the one morning after in which the efforts are realized in a sense of engagement and connection that, in turn, helps create new moments for others.

So back to the party I attended – it is a fair to ask the question about what we will find the morning after, but it is equally as important to ask which ‘morning after’  about we are speaking.  Short-term measurements alone will result in short-sighted goals and short-term strategies.  And if we are focused on Jewish engagement for the long-term, we can’t short ourselves.  Just as we want Bar/Bat Mitzvahs to propel Jewish youth into their Jewish adulthood, it is fair (and fun) to hope that Bar Mitzvah themed parties might help propel those same Jews (now adults) into a series of moments that further define their Jewish futures and the futures of their families.  And fueled by other Jewish moments created by the community,  these Jews will be propelled to that that future morning after –  a morning after filled with Jews smiling, talking and moving to the music of community…

Not just the music of Duran Duran.

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One comment

  1. Seth, you write beautifully and from the heart. Thanks for sharing.



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