November 8, 2007
Get ready Jewish leaders, the Next Generation is here
(Page 2 - Previous Page)For some, that kind of openness, fostered by the loose format and lots of built-in unstructured time, made the conference feel like a lot of talking with no clear message. For others it felt just right.
"What I like about this experience is it is very organic. After a meeting is held we can get together for open space, because we understand that something happens when you can continue the conversation," said Michele Citrin, 26, a folk rock singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn who had her peers whooping to a Rosh Hashana song but whose repertoire is not generally Jewish oriented.
"If you think about this generation, people in their 20s and 30s, how are they connecting to Judaism? It's through art, film, music, through going to concerts and clubs, and it is really outside of the synagogue," she said.
Just look at what some of her cohorts are doing. Many work at Hillels, JCCs, Federations and smaller organizations, many in programs targeting their age group, most trying to change things from within. Some have founded their own groups or are involved in innovative newer groups.
Ben Healy, who became the youngest city councilman in New Haven while still a student at Yale, now lives in Moishe House Boston: Kavod Jewish Social Justice House, one of about 20 homes across the world where a small group of young people both live and together run an organization. Healy and his three housemates -- all of whom are students or have day jobs -- host Shabbat dinners, social justice projects and arts events, and serve as a gathering point for 20-somethings.
Lindsay Litowitz created the FourCorners project, where she meets and collects stories and experiences from Jews all over the world and then shares that diversity with others.
Jodi Berris, who tests Nike soccer equipment for a living, and also is on the volunteer ski patrol and volunteer fire department, became a one-woman outreach center when she moved to Portland, Ore., where she now hosts Shabbat and holiday events, club parties and the new Co-Ed Jewish Dodgeball and Drinks League.
But not all the talent has that sort of scrappiness, the whatever-it-takes mentality, Uziel said.
"The people we see are people who have had privilege, who have developed both sides of their brain and have been able to have many gifts and opportunities. Because of that they are somewhat naive about the world," Uziel said.
Leadership skills workshops, along with the coaching, are meant to address that. Uziel also took on the challenge of helping the talent unwrap the Jewish communal structure, in part as a way to help them see that starting from scratch isn't always necessary -- they can also change existing structures from within.
Now it's just a matter of getting Jewish organizations to see that this generation has a new, out-of-the-sanctuary, online, in-the-moment way of being Jewish.
"One of the real challenges is that our Jewish organizations have to be ready for these amazing, talented young people," said Rabbi David Gedzelman, executive director of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, one of the funders of the group, along with philanthropists William Davidson, Eugene and Maria Applebaum, Lynn Schusterman and Jewish Federation of Detroit CEO Bob Aronson.
"These organizations have to manifest the values of creativity and openness that these folks expect. It's our job to work with organizations to help them make the changes they need to take advantage of who these young people are."
One of PLP's latest initiatives is to work with Jewish organizations to help place talent in positions, and to encourage an atmosphere that will make them want to stay.
John Fischel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, is excited about the energy PLP brings to the community.
"I am personally very receptive" to opening the door to young people, Fishel said at ThinkTank3's opening dinner, "and I think we may be going into an era where the institution may be receptive to some really significant change."
Michael Hirschfeld, who spent much of his career at the Federation's Jewish Community Relations Council and is now the director of Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California, is also energized by his PLP experience, but he says Jewish organizations, including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, have a long way to go to move away from the hierarchical leadership models that are anathema to this generation where everyone is always on a first name basis and where they want to see good ideas implemented immediately.
"We're all staid -- we're stuck," Hirschfeld said of himself and his peers. "So seeing all these young people and being exposed to their enthusiasm, and their gut to want to do things differently and demand change -- it's very cleansing. I feel like my cynicism has been wiped away and it makes me feel better about the Jewish community."
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