Monday, July 6, 2009


We are so proud that our daughter chose to matriculate at Brandeis where she received a Masters in Jewish Communal Service. She has since toiled in the vineyards of two federations, for Camp Ramah and serves today as an honored professional for a major Jewish Community Center consortium. We are, all of us, proud of our children; they are the next generation for our communities, our federations, our People. If they are not committed to the federation Movement in which we have been so engaged, who will be?

That's why it was so shocking to me when, in 2007, I sat with the UJC Board Chair, one of Joe's daughters, Kathy Manning and a few others at a dinner I hosted in Jerusalem. We were talking informally about many things when I asked Joe's daughter whether she and her friends would contribute to help feed the elderly in the Former Soviet Union. "Of course," she answered, " but not a dime through federations. My generation won't deal with them." Joe merely shrugged his shoulders.

Then, just last week I read an exchange that appeared on Facebook in which one of Howard Rieger's sons, who had worked at UJC during Howard's term as CEO (!), in an exchange over the next generation wrote: "I can count on one hand the number of my under-40 year old Jewish friends who have ever made a donation to a federation," then, after his extrapolation from that personal "history" was disputed, concluded that "...the system's message has been turning them (the under-40's) 'off' -- we've been heading toward a demographic crisis for years, but the north american jewish federation system has been unable to respond in an innovative or coordinated manner." (I read this exchange in an e-mail sent to me by a friend. I don't fully understand the attraction of Facebook where all of this appeared.)

I cite these episodes not to criticize this young man or that young woman or to extol the virtues of my daughter. I cite the comments of Joe's daughter and Howard's son as examples of the futile, sporadic "dedication" of UJC to the critical next generation. From the Toronto General Assembly, where UJC's leaders committed the organization to a NextGen focus, forward, UJC's leaders have insulted leaders of the Next Generation -- David Fisher, Scott Seligman, Rob Mann, to name a few -- and, but for the Fisher Foundation's funding of "Flight" -- a model for the Next Generation the catalyst for which was Vicki Agron's (forced out by Rieger) initiative with Jane Sherman for the Fisher Family -- and the periodic "Lunch With A Legend" -- the continuing lip service paid this generation, nothing has been done...nothing..."to respond in an innovative or coordinated manner," as Alec Rieger noted, to the "demographic crisis" that the federation system has been talking about for years.

There are best practices in so many communities, other organizations (e.g., the Jewish Funders Network) that have been far ahead of our system, there has been incredible research by, among others, The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, and there are so many young professionals around the country dedicated to bringing young women and men into federation life. I look at the leadership on my Federation Board, including our current Board and Budget & Finance Chairs, both of whom served as Campaign Chairs, and I see the NextGen emerge, bringing others along with them, in direct response to the challenge and in direct refutation of those who believe that there is no place in federation leadership for the next generation.

It is a real shame that UJC has squandered five years on so many "plans" irrelevant to the federations that own it. Yet, the federations have moved forward with no input or leadership from United Jewish Communities in this most critical area -- in this search for their communities' future. Today...yesterday...or tomorrow, maybe UJC could collect and disseminate the best practices that could influence the Next Generation. Maybe they could adapt the extant models in this area and see if they can change the minds of our daughters and sons.

Then, again, maybe they just want to talk about it some more.



Dan said...

The UJC and the Federation system need to take a page from Johanna Arbib, Keren Hayesod's new chair.
The term NextGen, and everything associated with it needs to be buried. As Johanna so eloquently pointed out at JAFI's November '08 Assembly, "The NextGen is no longer. They are the NOWGen". Until such time as ALL our organizations accept this very simple statement, engagement efforts will fail.

Anonymous said...

As that great philospher of capital accumulation, Willy Sutton, once observed, you have to go where the money is. In cultivated an under 50 market, don't forget that disposable wealth often and mostly still resides in the 50+ genrations some whom are not on facebook daily. Even the heralded Obama campaign that did miracles raising cash on the web raised most of their contributions through bundlers who worked the old fashion way. Boomers aren't going anywhere so soon and they are still the most ripe market for Jewish philanthropy ... yalah with a multi generational strategy!

Anonymous said...

Richard, I fear you have confused two issues here. I can't really comment on the success or lack thereof of UJC's efforts to engage young high potential donors in federation activity. It looks like a mixed bag to me -- some successes, some not -- but the vehicles, most notably the Young Leadership Cabinets, exist within the FRD department and certainly will continue to do so. What began as UJC's "Next Generation" initiative -- but, for the reasons Dan cites, is rightly no longer referred to by that name -- had a different focus and a different rationale altogether. It's aim was to engage with (not "recruit") the many younger -- and some not so young -- Jews today who are involved in seeking to reshape the Jewish world and the larger society beyond. For some of these individuals and groups, federations have indeed been largely irrelevant. Some respect what federations have stood for, but find the organized community slow to respond to their perspectives and concerns. Others are quite willing to engage, but on terms that respect their autonomy.

There is some overlap between the young people who are prepared to get involved with federation through the traditional route of young leadership or through some of the special programs that emanated from the FRD department and the young people who are seeking a different relationship to the organized community. But, they are by and large different populations.

UJC is still actively engaged with the second group as well as the first. UJC's Jewish Peoplehood and Identity unit, working together with JESNA, sponsored a highly successful consultation on Jewish Social Entrepreneurship and New Leadership Development last September and a standing room only session at the GA in November. It's continuing to work with a host of other organizations, including Bikkurim: An Incubator for New Jewish Ideas, which is housed at and supported by UJC, to advance the "innovation sector" in Jewish life. It's also working with a number of federations around the continent that are seeking to engage this population by supporting indigenous grass-roots efforts -- the best way to do so.

So, the story is not quite as you have told it. UJC has by no means forgotten "the next generation." In fact, it's doing some excellent work to engage precisely with those for whom the federation system has heretofore meant the least.

RWEX said...

To my "Anonymous" Commentators and Dan, to this Post:

My thanks for your insights and clarifications. Much appreciated. (And, for the life of me, I can't comprehend the need for Anonymity here.)

Tamar Wisemon said...

Thank you for that thoughtful post.

The reason that the under 40's aren't giving through the federations may simply be that they prefer to give directly to small npos involved in the causes they care about. This is probably for the same reason that they converse on Facebook - it is personal, informal, immediate, short and to the point.

The federations have yet to catch up on the communication, connection and activism tools used by under 40's. We communicate and engage through Facebook, blogs and twitter (even email is becoming a rarity.

In my work at JGooders (see which encourages online Jewish giving, and my volunteer co-founding of Sviva Israel(see uses Web 2.0 technology to connect young Jews through environmental learning and action, almost everything I do is through social media.

Ultimately we apples admire the trees we have grown on, but apples and trees have different appearances, strengths and goals.

Tamar Wisemon