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Will We Let This School Fail?

March 10, 2010

Rarely a day passes without hearing from one of my friends in the Jewish world about a new project in which they have become engaged or an organization for which they are fundraising.  The conversation that ensues is often one about shared interests and common concerns. Sometimes the conversations result in my renewed optimism and other times they cause me to have sobering realizations; but never have they made me sick to my stomach.

Until last week.

An unexpected call from a former colleague who  left Atlanta to move to Asheville, North Carolina started out with the usual pleasantries – work, family, memories of old times. But quickly the conversation turned to the matter that was obviously on my friend’s mind – the state of affairs of the nascent community Jewish Day School in Asheville where his children attend and of which he is president. His story started out inspiring enough, nineteen families had come together in 2006 to create a fully integrated core/Jewish curriculum day school for their twenty-one children, with plans to increase the school size by the incremental addition of students and grades. In the middle of North Carolina, where so much of the Jewish community had migrated away from to lager population centers like Charlotte and Atlanta, the small but resilient Jewish community of Asheville was not going to yield to demography. Grounded in a community with religious diversity and a small but strong JCC, the school would be an extension of the Jewish community’s efforts to create a rich Jewish experience for their children. At least that was the intention.

Now, like every school (and other community organization) in the country that is facing the hardships of the Great Recession, the Maccabi Academy of Asheville is in financial crisis. Its $40,0000 deficit is too big, its community is too small; it is literally on the edge of going from a school that could be much more to a school that might be nothing more than a memory. It made growth decisions that anticipated financial security and now must revisit those decision with deep cost-cutting measures.  It must ask more from each family, and has already received more than most families can afford.   Looking beyond its small community it has reached out to friends throughout the Southeast that might have connections to Asheville or North Carolina in the hope they might find an angel or an unexpected benefactor from afar. But one decision my friend, his board, and his fellow parents are loathe to consider, but nonetheless must – without the needed funds, will it be possible to continue this Jewish day school experience for those nineteen families?

As a Jewish people we say that education is one of the most important elements of sustaining ourselves. As a North American community we insist that day school education is one of the most critical means to provide our children an immersive educational and communal experience (often at the expense of investing too little in congregational education). We encourage families to send their children to day schools; we cajole parents to give more of their resources to make those schools strong. We know that education is expensive and we say to one another that we face an affordability crisis that threatens our ability to provide the education we know is needed. Yet say every child matters, so we mustn’t fail in providing that education, no matter the cost. We say all of these things.

There are nineteen Jewish children in Asheville, North Carolina, far from the Jewish centers of life in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Atlanta. These children are getting a daily dose of Jewish education, culture and language, and they are sharing experiences that will help cement their identities for years to come.  They may go elsewhere in life, far from Asheville – perhaps even to our own communities. We know this.

So with all we know, let me ask this – will we, the Jewish people, let this school fail?  And if we do, what does it mean about what we say?

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August (1929) and Everything After: The Jewish Agency at the Crossroads of History

March 1, 2010

The fruit of three thousand years of civilization and a hundred generations of suffering may not be sacrificed by us. It will be sacrificed if dissipated. Assimilation is national suicide. And assimilation can be prevented only by preserving national characteristics and life as other peoples, large and small, are preserving and developing their national life. –  excerpt from “A Call to the Educated Jew” by Louis Brandeis

 

History teaches everything, including the future.   – Alphonese de Lamartine

 

 

What was it like to be part of the leadership the Jewish Agency in August, 1929 in Zurich?  Less than a month earlier, the 16th Zionist Congress established an expanded Jewish Agency after a seven year long debate about how Zionist efforts would incorporate a wide array of Jewish groups in the Diaspora, and the meetings that August were the first gathering of the expanded organization. Around the table were giants of the Jewish people, including Chaim Weizmann, Louis Marshall, Joseph Sprinzak and others representing both the WZO and Diaspora Jewry and who were invested in the efforts to create a Jewish state. As they planned their joint endeavor toward the realization the “establishment of the Jewish National Home… in Palestine” (as called for by the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine in 1922), this group had the daunting task of prioritizing the initial work of the Agency. Their deliberations resulted in the emphasis on immigration, settlement and land purchase as key endeavors, with efforts also to be undertaken regarding the greater establishment of language and culture of the new nation. Decisions were made and the rest, as they say, is history.

But again, I wonder, what was it like to sit at that table and make those decisions?

This question weighed on my mind as I attended the meetings of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency last week in Jerusalem. Now, like then, the Jewish Agency is at a pivot moment in Jewish history – a moment where, at the end of many years of debate, priorities must be set and decisions must be made. What direction will this historic organization take at this crossroads in the history of the Jewish state and the Jewish people?  Yes, there certainly are differences between then and now – then the very existence of the State of Israel was an aspiration, now it is a reality. Then only a small fraction of world Jewry lived in the land that would become the modern state of Israel, now half the world’s Jewish population calls Israel home. But many of the challenges are the same – how can the Jewish Agency best help make sure that Israel is more than a state, but also a people? How can the organization best ensure that the future of the Jewish nation is secured and enriched by the reinforcement of the national characteristics of the Jewish people?

Those challenges and others face the leadership of the Jewish Agency in 2010 and, like 1929, both the weight of history and the promise of the future cannot be ignored. Then, like now, the Zionist dream was the shared dream of many diverse stakeholders, often sharing common cause but possessing diverse perspectives about how to pursue that cause.  We know the history since 1929, but what we don’t know is this: Like those individuals around the table in 1929 that came together to prioritize approaches to ensuring the creation and sustainability of a Jewish nation, can today’s diverse leadership of the Jewish Agency define its priorities to properly ensure the strengthening and sustainability of the Jewish people?

The answer must be ‘yes’ – history, and the Jewish future, demand nothing less.

In his book Community and Polity, Professor Daniel Elazar postulated that in the postmodern Jewish world there needs to be reassertion of Jewish polity – a transition from fragmentation to reintegration. More than ever before, the Jewish Agency can and should play a substantial role in developing that greater sense of Klal Yisrael, integrating the fragments of Jewish life into a shared sense of identity. While its role since 1929 has been reconstituting a Jewish state, the Jewish Agency must now transition to a role of reconnecting a Jewish people. Yes, there can be no question that Israel is and must remain a center of the Jewish people, but a center unconnected from its broader sphere becomes the center of nothing.  And just like the efforts of the Jewish Agency have long been to weave the multicolored threads of olim into the fabric of the Jewish State, the Agency must continue to serve as a seamstress in the next phase of Jewish history. But rather than only help bring the threads together as the cloth of a nation, it must now serve a new role in stitching together the quilt of Jewish people, sewing together the unique squares of Jewish life and experience that occur in Israel, North America and throughout the Jewish world.  To do so, it must use the expression of individual Jewish identity as the thread that binds the quilt of the Jewish people together.

Of course any prioritization, any design of its future endeavors, must take into account that the Jewish Agency cannot in the abandon some of its key responsibilities in that it is uniquely able to address. But as time changes, and the needs of the Jewish people change, the Jewish Agency cannot remain static. It too must change, and change in the ways the future demands, not the past. Certainly the coming weeks and months will require hard questions to be asked and certain answers to be accepted. But we should not lose site of one question that will be asked, we hope will be asked, one day far in the future –

What was it like to be part of the leadership of the Jewish Agency in 2010 in Jerusalem and what did they decide?

The history books of the Jewish people are waiting for the answer.

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A Chanukiyah of Predictions for 2010

December 13, 2009

December is the time of the secular year where we look backward and forward – making best-of lists and summarizing our prognostications for the future.  While many faiths join together for revelries related to the secular new year, for Jews it is also the season to recall the value of perseverance and faith in collective Jewish endeavors, as well as the unexpected miracles that we encounter along the way.  So in the spirit of the new year but nevertheless inspired by how one ancient prediction regarding a small vessel of oil gave rise to the miraculous tale of eight nights of luminescence, here are eight predictions for the coming twelve months of 2010:

1.   The new “I” word is… Imagination.  If 2009 was the year when the newness of Jewish innovation became more widely discussed (or perhaps, debated) as a substantial aspect of Jewish communal development, it was also the year where innovation as a term became, well, old news. Yes, there are important discussions to be had about the role of entrepreneurs and ‘in-treprenuers’ in the world of Jewish organizations, but innovation alone cannot change communities.  Imagination, however, can create new ways for communities to collectively view their futures without getting bogged down in semantics.  I predict that in 2010 we will find more and more local communities leveraging the imagination of their members out of both necessity and desire, and that as we give our communities permission to imagine, we will create futures burning even brighter than we can anticipate.

2.   The Overseas Case Goes into Overdrive. For people who expect to only hear about the budget challenges facing primary overseas partners of US philanthropy – the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, my prediction is that while people might hear some of what they expect, they will also hear the unexpected.  Both organizations are in the midst of engaging new generations of leadership and deploying new tactics to engage supporters. JAFI’s Global Leaders Forum,   impactful foray into tweeting, and re-energizing initiatives like the new Jewish Peoplehood Hub created in partnership with the Nadav Fund and UJA-Federation of New York give reason for great optimism for the future of JAFI.  Similarly anticipate great ideas being implemented by JDC’s nextgen professional leadership in 2010, continuing that organization’s vital role in helping Jews worldwide in new and impactful ways.

3.   The Educational Affordability Crisis. The past eighteen months have given those who care about Jewish education a great amount of concern, and for good reason.  Enrollment has declined as parents who were already struggling to meet high tuition costs decided to opt-out all together in the wake of the Great Recession; and unfortunately statistics tell us that families drop out, the generally don’t come back.  Even though organizations like PEJE have already been proactively convening discussions on the issue of the changing economy,  I predict in 2010  we will be forced to squarely face one of the greatest and most urgent challenges of contemporary Jewish life – making a high quality Jewish day school education affordable to every Jewish family who wants to provide that education to their children. It is time for bolder local and national solutions, and I believe 2010 is when our realization of the crisis will inspire great solutions.

4.   Jewish media continues to transform… for the better.  In addition to the ancient content of our heritage, there is great new Jewish content emerging, from sites about arts, culture and education (Tablet Magazine and MyJewishlearing.com), to thought-provoking online journals and magazines (such as Sh’ma and Lilith) and of course philanthropic resources such as eJewish Philanthropy. While different in content, all of these resources and countless others have the potential to continue to transform national and local Jewish dialogue. I predict that in 2010 as we see more and more local Jewish newspaper come under financial pressure we will see a substantial migration of eyeballs to online media and resources. Moreover, we will find that those resources rise to meet the challenge of delivering high-quality content. 2010 will a defining year for online Jewish media, and you will read all about those transformative changes… online.

5.   J Street, AIPAC and AJC: Separate, but Civil. Some predictions are more aspirational than others, and perhaps this is one of those predictions. But I believe that in 2010 the Iranian crisis will force J Street, AIPAC, AJC, and others to recognize that even with their differences, their coordination on some issues will be important to strengthening an securing the US-Israel relationship for the challenging days ahead.  I predict (hope?) we will see high level leadership and dialogue that builds bridges in relationships and influence to achieve results.  To do so however, J Street needs to continue to mature as an organization and AIPAC and AJC will need to recognize that their big tents may need to get a bit bigger. 2010 is not the year for deepening division among advocates for Israel; it must be a year for closing those divides as much as possible.

6.   Microfundraising goes… big. The patterns of how people contribute online will change more in 2010 than the past several years combined.  As more and more local organizations provide opportunity for online giving, donor designation and project funding, more and more donors will choose to make their charitable contributions in more specific ways.  In addition, organizations like JGooders will enable local initiatives to have more direct pathways to global donors. I predict what once was a concierge service for wealthy donors with philanthropic funds will become the conventional wisdom in 2010, leveraging technology to make that wisdom reality.

7.   Emphasis on Outcomes. Given the new focus on microfundraisng, organizations will need to be more focused on measuring and communicating results. While many larger organizations have already invested heavily in outcome measurement strategies, there will be a real push in 2010 for all non-profit organizations to become outcome-focused by understanding the taxonomy of their outcomes.  As resources stay scarce, results will be the key differentiators.  Those organizations that can demonstrate their effectiveness quantitatively will have the edge.  Expect to see more and more organizations retooling themselves both with board resources and technology to enable them to get that edge… and ultimately get those elusive dollars.

8.   There will be magic in the Magic Kingdom. Even though the 2009 General Assembly just recently concluded, I predict that the 2010 General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America (to be held in Orlando) will truly be one of the most significant gatherings of American Jewry in the past 20 years. With new leadership now in place and new energy percolating across the system, I predict that GA10 will bring together more people in more collaborative discussions than ever before, and that before, during and after the GA people will recognize the impact that that conference will have on the next 20 years of Jewish life.  A successful GA will also cap a year where a reenergized Federation system emerges as a renewed force in modernizing Jewish philanthropy… and that is no Mickey Mouse prediction.

So there you have it – eight predictions for the next twelve months. While some of those predictions may very well require miracles, I think that we will find 2010 is a year that exceeds our expectations. And just like the shamash is the service candle for each of the other candles in the chanukiyah, in 2010 each of us will have the responsibility to be the shamash in lighting our own predictions and aspirations for the days ahead. Let us be those shamashes together, and may 2010 be even brighter than we imagine. Chanukah Sameach!

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Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship: A Horrible Combination to Waste

November 29, 2009

“Inventing is a combination of brains and materials. The more brains you use, the less material you need.” –  Charles. F. Kettering

At no time in history has mankind been presented with greater opportunity for the global interaction of innovation and imagination, unbounded by time or geography.  The advancement of technology has created communication networks that allow global challenges to be addressed by international networks of problem solvers using instantaneous communications and unlimited perspectives. The enormity of this opportunity, however, is met by an equally great number of challenges. Throughout the word billions of men, women and children live in need – need of a more sustainable life, more sustainable communities, and a more sustainable world.  Indeed, in an era where global opportunity is almost blinding, we can’t lose sight of those who may live in our collective blindspots.

Given the way that technology has become a fundamental aspect of contemporary problem-solving, it has become easy to casually assume that any human challenge can be met easily by the application of existing or advancing technology.  But that isn’t always the case; some problems require custom technologies that deviate from existing technology pathways that might otherwise go unexamined. Also, the casual observer often assumes that simply providing technological tools to communities is a satisfactory substitute for the systemic integration of entrepreneurship and technology in communal development.  Rather, it this systemic integration that does more than respond to a need, it helps stimulate communal (and collective) imagination and innovation.

With this in mind, perhaps one of the best examples of this integration is the work of Jack Sim, a social entrepreneur, Ashoka Fellow and founder of the World Toilet Organization (WTO).

Now truth be told, I learned of Jack’s work by accident.  My birthday was November 19th and unbeknownst to me (until a friend duly pointed it out), that date is World Toilet Day. Putting aside my friends chiding (insert your own birthday/toilet joke here), I was genuinely curious and even more genuinely amazed by what I learned about that day.  For over a decade, Jack and the WTO have been vital voices in developing global improvements in sanitation that provide millions of individuals the opportunity to live healthy and dignified lives in communities with sustainable sanitation programs. Seeing a need, Jack helped shape and pursue a vision of a world where sanitation is not an aspiration, but rather an actualization of a community’s ability to care for itself.

But identifying a need, sharing a vision and having an entrepreneurial spirit wasn’t enough; something more was needed.

Jack’s success wouldn’t be possible without technology and innovation as well. There has been a steady progression of improvement in sanitation technology including the recent development of compost toilets for public use. Just as importantly, there has been innovation in the ways communities are educated about sanitation needs, innovation in the way funds are raised and allocated for the enhancement of global sanitation, and imagination in the way communications technology can be leveraged to create global awareness of the fact that over 2.5 billion people worldwide don’t have access to sanitation.

And that is the lesson – because of Jacks’ entrepreneurial spirit, the accompanying technological developments and systemic innovation, the WTO and organizations in 57 countries across the world are now focused on an issue that for far to long has been in the outhouse of global awareness. Proving once again that the combination of entrepreneurship, technology and social innovation are a terrible thing to waste  – literally and figuratively.

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Strange Love of National Organizations (or how I learned to stop worrying and love my local community)

November 18, 2009

Do not separate yourself from community – Hillel (Avos 2:5)

All politics is local – Thomas ‘Tip’ O’Neill

Quite simply, the GA is a reminder of the gravitational force of national Jewish organizations and the important role they play in connecting us to one another. We often exhort one another to ‘not recreate the wheel’ in our respective community efforts, but if it wasn’t for networked cadres of national leadership and large conferences like the GA there wouldn’t be opportunities for the mass in-person sharing of new ideas and lessons learned in order to avoid such redundant efforts. Certainly technology has given us all the ability to communicate more quickly (even instantly) and has removed geography as a barrier to the exchange of ideas. But nevertheless, there is no substitute for harnessing the collective power of diverse and distributed Jewish leadership so that together, under the umbrella of a national organizational endeavor, they can meet challenges and seize opportunities that are continental and even global in scope.

And having watched some of my friends ‘go national’ I also know the seductiveness (and impact) of being engaged in community discussions that transcend ones own local community. Whether it is the national young leadership cabinet of The Jewish Federations of North America in which many of my friends participate, or the boards of continental endeavors like Joshua Venture Group (in which I am involved), the involvement in initiatives that have a scope beyond one’s city limits are often perceived as a form of ‘graduated’ leadership. For others, however, ‘going national’ is a matter of necessity – to effect the level of transformative change they seek to achieve, local communities (especially small ones) may be too limiting. Whatever the reason one decides to expand his or her role in more national endeavors, there can be no question that it can be extremely educational and enriching.

But it can also be distracting.

There are a few reasons why involvement in national organizations and initiatives can present both challenges and opportunities related to the success of Jewish leaders. First – the challenges. “Going national” is a substantial commitment to individual resources and time commitments, and requires a high level of patience with long-distance communication, collaboration, and politics. While not always the case, the exhaustion from national involvement often limits activists from greater engagement in their own local communities. But there is another issue of greater significance (and often related to the first issue) – often national endeavors can feel a bit disconnected from local needs and issues. While solving issues on a national scale may involve a level of grand planning and implementation, it ultimately is often excellent local execution that make those solutions achieve their intended results. In sum, while passions may be national, needs are still local.

But on the other hand, the positive impacts of national involvement are clear. Engagement in national (or international) activities often give scale and scope to the imaginations of local activists. Connecting and sharing with peers is one of the best ways to meaningful exchange ideas and experiences, and the ability to connect with different people with different perspectives is a true benefit of national involvement. Also, as one of my friends reminded me at the GA, often in small communities the opportunity to become more engaged in the Jewish community is limited and becoming involved in national endeavors is the most meaningful way to provide engaged Jewish activists a way to make a Jewish impact. Lastly, understanding that there is a large community of which we all are a part (and that requires some of our attention and effort) is a key benefit of exposure to national initiatives – the more we feel a part of something bigger than ourselves, the more we are empowered to view ourselves as vital instruments of empowerment and change.

But with all that being said, I think that one can’t lose sight of the fact that community starts at home; first in our own home and then in our home communities. Sure, the lure of the faraway is great – its often feels more significant and less limited. But the ability to invest in our own communities is great as well, and there is no lack of need to impact the communities around us in the smallest and most significant ways. While we may worry about issues that transcend just our individual cities and towns, the love of our local communities – the communities that care for us – must remain great. Whether it is innovation, connection with Israel, Jewish arts and culture or otherwise – if there is a national need, that means there is a local need. And if there are local needs, we need local activists just as much as we need national ones.

So with that in mind, and the GA in our rearview mirror, lets make sure we all think communally, learn and interact nationally, but not forget to act locally. It makes a difference – a difference that can change a nation of Jews one community at a time.

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Encountering Israel at the GA

November 18, 2009

Partialness gathered all its parts and the whole wasn’t formed

How was the whole not gathered from all the parts, though

All their recesses fit and their crevices, how was

the whole not formed though all the components were set one by

one…

–       excerpt from “Partialness Gathered” by Rivka Miriam (Israeli poet)

At its most basic, the GA is a gathering of Jewish people and ideas, mixed together among and around shared passions and diverse interests. A modern-day Council of Four Lands, it brings together Jews from across North America and around the world collectively discuss to challenges, seek opportunities and create bonds of fellowship around the common cause of community.  And while the conference is convened by the (newly renamed) Jewish Federations of North America, one never loses sight of the fact that the attendees are not only North American, but representatives of the larger collective of the people of Israel – a people rooted in (and in some cases from) the land of Israel.

To that point, during my time at the GA I was struck by the fact that even though we were in the heart of Washington D.C., at the heart of my experience was the number of conversations and encounters I had that related to Israel.  Of course there were political discussions – with Prime Minister Netanyahu addressing the attendees it was hard not to be cognizant of the challenging political winds that constantly blow around (and in) Israel. But there were also conversations that touched upon the collective desire of the Zionist dream, a strong and enduring Jewish state with a compassionate and cognizant Jewish society living in peace with and among its neighbors.  Danny Gordis writes in his recent book Saving Israel that the purpose of Israel is to transform the Jewish people, and while I believe that is correct, I also believe that the purpose of the Jewish people is to transform Israel – to make the partial whole. With that in mind, perhaps the most impactful conversations I had were those that reminded me the Israel is still not yet complete – that it is a work in progress that requires the countless efforts of passionate advocates and constructive critics in order to become more perfect.

Those transformative efforts are not always easy though, and often challenge our very understanding of our own personal encounters with Israel.  One example of these efforts and challenges is Encounter, an educational organization that provides Jewish Diaspora leaders from across the religious and political spectrum with exposure to Palestinian life. Co-founded by Rabbi Melissa Weintraub and Rabbi Miriam Margles (and a product of Bikkurim), Encounter takes Jewish groups on one and two day encounters with Palestinian counterparts in Bethlehem, Hebron and East Jerusalem.  During my discussions with Rabbi Weintraub at the GA, I was struck not only by the passion of her commitment to Encounter, but the power and the opportunity of the type of transformative experience she and her organization offers.  If our perception of Israel is always partially constructed by our personal histories, experiences such as Encounter help build stronger understandings of Israel even if they disassemble some perceptions once thought to be unshakable.

Like my meeting with Rabbi Weintraub, at the GA there were opportunities to meet individuals passionate about creating a more complex and complete understanding of Israel were everywhere you looked. Whether it was the professionals of the Makom, a program of JAFI with a mission is to empower Jewish communities to develop deep, sophisticated and honest Jewish engagement with Israel through imaginative content and dialogue, or with the founders of AlmaLinks, a start-up program that connects young Jewish professionals around common interests, there were creative leaders and promising endeavors discussing the future of Israel.   But as we know from our local communities, passions about Israel are common, but are not always congruous and often require effort to connect diverse in our collective Jewish puzzle.  As my friend Eryn Kallish at Project Reconnections (a program that helps facilitate such dialogue and deliberation) recently impressed upon me, only when we encounter other perceptions and passions in a respectful way do we truly understand how we can play a part in creating greater respect for Israel and its people.

So, in the spirit of my encounters of Israel at the GA, let us all continue to gather the partial pieces of our common love of Israel, and let us remember that while the ingathering of our people is powerful, it is the ingathering of our ideas and efforts that can truly transform Israel’s encounter with the world – an encounter where the whole is certainly more than the sum of its parts.

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A Moment in Time: Sunday Night at the GA

November 15, 2009

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” – Henry David Thoreau

Anyone who has been to a GA knows that there are two schedules – the one that is published in the program book and the one you make for yourself.  Between the plenaries and the salons, there are meetings squeezed into bar booths and between sofas, old stories being recalled and new opportunities being explored.  Whenever so many people from so many places come together, there is often too much to discuss in too little time; the GA is a microcosm of the Jewish world – passionate, exhilarating and exhausting. Yet somewhere among the hectic schedules there are moments both superb and sublime that comprise the GA, moments that sometimes reflect upon the past and other that portend the future.

One such moment was Sunday night at the GA.

Convened by the grassroots efforts of Nina Bruder of Bikkurim, Keith Greenwald, a Vice-Char of the National Leadership Cabinet of Jewish Federations of North America, Shawn Landres of Jumpstart, Toby Rubin of UpStart Bay Area, Felicia Herman of Natan, Matt Abrams Gerber and Miryam Rosenzweig of Jewish Federations of North America, along with the support of myself, Steve Rakitt, the President/CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and several others, over 120 Jewish leaders and professionals crammed into a  room in the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel for almost two hours in the late evening hours of the first day of the GA. The room was a cross-section of the modern Jewish communal landscape, with representatives from National Young Leadership Cabinet, members of the Jewish social entrepreneur community, professionals involved in building and sustaining community capacity, as well as over twenty executives of Federations from across the country. Intermingled among the tables in the room were artists and journalists, fundraisers and philanthropists, passionate supporters of overseas needs and activists for the most local of causes.

The purpose of the gathering was to have a conversation among a group of engaged volunteers and professionals about how to strengthen and expand local Jewish communities by encouraging new ideas, new leaders and new approaches to Jewish community life.  An important and interesting topic for sure, but what made the room so compelling, however, is that for many participants in the room, this was the first time they had the opportunity to truly sit around the table taking to community members from communities other than their own – not just geographic communities, but communities of interest as well.  The sheer density of the room broke down silos, if for no other reason than there was no room for the silos to remain standing. Moreover, while many of the participants had shared their aspirations and frustrations of their respective communities with members of their respective communities, this was an opportunity for the various groups to fund common ground if not always common cause.

As pointed out by many attendees, the night wasn’t flawless, and in several respects it could have been improved. Although the hope was that there would be a healthy dialogue, naturally there was the occasional monologue. And without true facilitation, many of the table discussions left participants frustrated with the pace and progress of the conversations. Some suggested that guiding questions might have been a bit vague and next steps might have been unclear.  Lastly, just as much as one could marvel who was in the room, one also had to stop and wonder who wasn’t in the room and what it would take to get them there.  Nevertheless, the volume of the voices in the room made it clear that of those in the room nobody was keeping quiet and no opinion was left unexpressed.  In a GA filled with moments, Sunday night was a noisy, messy, and exhilarating one.

So what to make of this moment?  Sometimes a moment is just a snapshot in time, nothing more and nothing less. Sometimes it is the drop of a pebble that makes a ripple, which turns into a wave that transforms a landscape. It is hard to guess exactly what kind of moment that Sunday night at the GA was – a moment that captured the desire for people to more closely connect with one another in transforming their communities, or a moment where silos fell momentarily only to eventually be reinforced again over time.  Perhaps it was a moment in the present that was a reflection of moments that could have been, or much preferably, perhaps it was a moment that foreshadows the promise of what can be.   To realize that promise, there is no question that there is much work to be done in the moments and months ahead, especially if the participants hope to continue the conversations around those tables and tables in their local communities. Yes, perhaps Sunday night at the GA was a moment in time –

but in time, anything is possible.