December 6, 2007
UJC reaches out to young innovators
(Page 2 - Previous Page)In an effort to understand its constituents and who it is missing, the UJC is planning to spend some $800,000 on a market research study in the beginning of next year.
At the GA, where some 3,000 Jews from across the country had gathered, the hallways buzzed with praise for the young speakers. Many in attendance called it the best GA plenary they had ever attended.
"We have to make room for them at the table, though we may not like their music or like what they say," said Ron Rosensweig, a lay leader from the UJA-Federation of Northern New Jersey, referring to the next generation.
Others were more tepid in their praise, but still thought the UJC had inched forward with the plenary and a couple of breakout sessions that focused on young initiatives.
Ruth Messinger, the head of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and a fifth-generation donor to the UJA-Federation of New York -- her grandfather was its first president -- has been thwarted repeatedly in her attempts to tap the system for her social service and advocacy group.
She said only a handful of federations make small donations, $5,000 to $10,000, to AJWS, which dispatches Jews around the world to help non-Jews in developing countries and is among the most successful at engaging younger Jews.
Though Messinger in a sit-down before the plenary was highly critical of the UJC, afterward she said it had taken a "half step" or even an "80 percent step forward."
Others said the UJC needs to ensure that its outreach extends beyond the GA and must take the time to figure out where it is going.
"The Jewish world needs to press pause and go back to articulating values," said Aaron Bisman, executive director of JDub (see story, Page 41), a nonprofit record label that seeks to promote Jewish experience through music created by Jews.
Bisman ran a breakout session called "Emerging Organizations of the Next Generation" that exhibited several innovative projects.
"There is no conversation about what values are," he said.
Bisman went on to say, "The age of peoplehood is over. If peoplehood means that we feel a connection to all Jews, we are all stuck" because young people "feel responsibility to all people, and some might feel that that idea of peoplehood might be racist. We understand the idea of community. But community can include non-Jews. Pushing peoplehood is the wrong value because it is not going to draw us in."
The head of the Boston federation, Barry Schrage, agreed that UJC has to articulate its mission.
"Any operational strategy without a core vision can't succeed," said Schrage, a maverick federation executive who at times has been critical of the UJC. He pointed specifically to Messinger's American Jewish World Service as an organization whose strength is its mission.
"It is values that make Ruth so attractive to young people because she is interested in making a better world," Schrage said.
In his closing address, Rieger said the marketing research will help UJC define its mission.
Some of the harshest criticism was directed at the young innovators themselves, who some said sounded self-absorbed and selfish.
"A lot of it sounded like, 'We want a seat at the table; tell us why it is good for us,'" said Daniel Septimus, the editor of myjewishlearning.com.
He said the UJC made a positive step, but it also needs to be more critical of the youth they are trying to attract because that would be real dialogue.
"I think it is a gut check for us," said Septimus, 29. "Was the word responsibility mentioned by any of the speakers? Was there anything about us giving? There are many ways in which this conversation highlighted our vulnerabilities.
"Maybe the best thing they did by putting these people on stage was to help articulate the disconnect. And maybe the question they should be asking us is, 'Who is going to build our nursing homes?'"
1 | 2