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Jewish Journal

Next Generation

Jewish organizations try to involve under-40s with separate branches and cool functions.


by Michael Aushenker

August 30, 2001 | 8:00 pm

Support Israel via Monte Carlo, here in Los Angeles.

That's the gist of next week's casino-themed evening that will officially launch Visions -- The Next Generation, the newly assembled under-40 division of Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF).

ICRF is one of many Jewish organizations to form a separate division in efforts to reach out to the next generation.

Increasingly, organizations have been utilizing diverse methods to attract younger participants into their fold. The Anti-Defamation League, Hadassah, The New Israel Fund and the United Jewish Appeal host parties, retreats, lectures and events more lively than the usual staid dinners for their under-40 crowd.

When Greg Bell became involved with ICRF -- an organization that raises money to subsidize Israeli medical and scientific research -- he noticed that "the people involved with the organization were older," the 34-year-old lawyer told The Journal.

So, Bell decided to do something that would engage people his age. He initiated Visions with four friends and, over the past year, the core group of leadership has evolved from five to 20, with a mailing list of 1,000. Bell's short-term goal: raise $25,000 for ICRF.

Bell is excited about the prospects of next Saturday's event, which will feature gambling, raffles, appetizers, wine, dessert and entertainment by jazz vocalist Orna Shifren.

Many find the combination of social event and social cause a satisfying experience. "It's very social, and it's great to raise money for something that affects all of us," said Jill Ullman, a Visions vice president. Ullman, 32, got involved after she lost her grandmother to brain cancer, but she said that being touched by cancer directly is not a prerequisite for becoming involved.

Young division leaders often look for compelling programs in order to attract Jewish Gen-Xers, who have a reputation for being disenfranchised and more cynical than their parents' and grandparents' generations.

Amy Levy, ADL associate director, is currently planning the next event in the Ralph Tornberg Lecture Series. Two previous series, "Power of the Written Word" and "Power of Entertainment," attracted a new group of young professionals.

"When we did hip-hop last year," Levy said, "it brought in people who were specifically interested in that topic, and when they come to an evening, people become captivated and want to attend other events."

Keeping these functions affordable while offering hors d'oeuvres in an upscale hotel setting, Levy added, has been key to their success.

Gail Bershon, executive director for Bnai Zion's Western Region, said that their Y.A.D.A. (Young Adults Dedicated to Altruism) group, started by former assistant director Jessica Freedman in February, is "still too young" to be deemed financially lucrative.

"Our intention, more than the money, is to get Jewish young adults interested in the causes," Bershon said. "That's our goal. They're our future."

Scott Minkow directs the Ben-Gurion Society, a group of young professionals primarily in their 30s who contribute at least $1,000 to the United Jewish Fund. The group accounts for roughly $1 million of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles' $42.5 million campaign.

"They don't want to give to a faceless organization. These are their peers," said Minkow, who noted that the roughly 800 members enjoy a mix of networking, education and social action, such as September's Project Chicken Soup excursion and a Shabbat dinner on Nov. 2.

In the five years since Randall Kaplan approached Bet Tzedek Legal Services, a beneficiary agency of The Federation, about engaging younger people, his Justice Ball, an annual party featuring prominent rock bands, has become the organization's second biggest annual fundraiser. In the last two years alone, it has raised a combined $1,150,000.

Beyond the surface entertainment value, these social events allow people to show solidarity for a larger cause, Bell said. ICRF gives people an opportunity to refute the negative media coverage afflicting the Jewish State by keeping groundbreaking Jewish achievements in Israel, he said.

"When Jews make scientific and medical breakthroughs in the Diaspora, the host countries -- not the Jewish doctors -- receive the acclaim," Bell said. " Let's give the country of Israel the credit that they deserve when they do make the breakthroughs."

Monte Carlo Night, sponsored by Visions -- The Next Generation of the Israel Cancer Research Fund, will take place Sept. 8 at the Park Plaza Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. For information, call (323) 651-1200; www.icrfla.org/visions .

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