In a conversation with a bright and creative communal professional, we turned to the topic of why the system seems to ignore the opportunities represented by those in their mid-30s and 40s un- or minimally-connected with us. The topic immediately turned my thoughts to Chicago's Nachshon Mission program. As you read what follows understand that I and those responsible for the program itself have urged what passes for FRD at JFNA to incorporate Nachshon into JFNA -- and we have been met with "we'll get back to you" or less...and nothing happens.
"Nachson," Torah taught us, was Aaron's brother-in-law, who, according to the Midrash. He was the catalyst for the parting of the Red Sea by walking into the waters over his head until the Sea parted. In Yiddish "to be a Nachshon" is to be a "catalyst." And that is exactly what was created in Chicago. Uniquely, Nachshon was the brainstorm of a group of (then) young Chicago Federation activists and fund raising leaders. Led by men like Skip Schrayer and others, they, who had found inspiration for all that they were doing from the Israel experience believed that they could motivate a generation of high potential donors to engage with Federation in all of its work the catalyst being a one-week Mission to Israel. They reached out to a group of their friends -- at the beginning all men -- and working in concentric circles, expanded the arc of engagement.
The results were and continue to be incredible -- six figure gifts were and are not unusual, friends brought friends. From one annual Mission grew another and the results compounded. The successes are now over a decade long or longer. The participants have risen through our federation leadership to Chairs of the Annual Campaign, to Federation Board Chairs and Committee Chairs who have absorbed, through their travels together and their exposure to their contemporaries who having already absorbed into their kishkas the core values and timeless principles that have made the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago among the strongest and few expressing collective responsibility in all of our work.
So, my friends, Chicago leaders have exposed Nachshon to national leadership to the point of frustration. Silverman has heard about it (initially from me, which may be the problem), a series of National Chairs have been familiar with it -- I have spoken to three of them personally. AND NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. This could be a home run at a cost far less than, as a bad, a terrible comparison, another TribeFest. It makes one believe that JFNA either doesn't understand, lacks the energy or, even, the lay leaders capable of pulling it off. (After all, the leaders of this effort have to be at the 30-45 year age cohort; they can't be at the age level of, e.g., a Paul Kane [I know, Paul is gone...but he is, as I am, at an age that would be told, we do not, cannot relate]).
If done right, this could be a win-win for JFNA and the federations. Based on history there are two questions: 1) why haven't they done it already; and 2) can they do it now?