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.