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Watch more videos at www.theg-dproject.org
Brought to you by PunkTorah.org
By Deborah Fishman
My memories of Camp Ramah are vivid but fleeting: smiling children dove and swam all the way across the screen as the projector rolled in my after-school Hebrew School in suburban Connecticut.
I never did persuade my parents to send me to Camp Ramah. But it certainly was not for lack of trying. Throughout my childhood years working my way through public school, I craved what those smiling children represented to me: a sense of community, built off the commonality of a shared Jewish identity; a place with people like me.
I first found this Jewish community for myself in perhaps the most unlikely of places – Princeton University, to be exact. I found religion too, and my husband. But when anyone would ask on a deeper, more psychological level why I choose to be religious, or start a family, I would come back to this core, human concept of the search for community (or my equally innate and possibly related desire to cook and feed people – but that’s a story for another time).
Post-college until the present, my husband and I have found ourselves in non-transient, suburban Modern Orthodox communities as young married adults with less-than-school-age children. We’ve discovered that, for better or for worse, the world is not a college campus. The casual observer of Modern Orthodox life might ask: really? Communal meals, organized programming, living walking distance from one’s closest friends – surely this all exists for both populations.
The truth is that my demographic is a hard sell, in Modern Orthodox circles and beyond. It’s not that the communities we’ve lived in haven’t given us a warm welcome, because they have. And it’s definitely not my lack of a desire to participate in local, community-building activities.
The usual excuses for my demographic holding back include our preoccupations with our budding careers and attention-demanding babies. While this may have been true historically and may even still be true currently, I believe the root of the issue comes to the complexity of the concept of community in today’s world. Who is your community? Your 1,067 “friends” on Facebook? Your family and friends developed over your 20-something years including, yes, former college roommates, who, probability has it, are now spread around the country, if not the world? The people in your inbox, Google hangout, or Twitter stream, who you may or may not have met in person? These avenues and more all lead to an inevitable feeling of hyper-global-connectivity, and the Modern Orthodox just as well as anyone else of this generation face multi-faceted decisions about where, how, and why to invest their community-building efforts, and with whom.
The issue of community has become so murky that there are those who declare it irrelevant and passé entirely. I beg to differ, and not only because of the weekly thud back into the territory of the local and non-virtual known as Shabbat. I differ because of this longing I have felt from such a young age to feel connected, supported, and identified with on a basic and intimate level. Technology’s increase of the number and variety of means to connect aids but does not necessarily abet such natural desires.
Given all of this, perhaps it’s not terribly surprising that personally, and rather unconsciously, I ended up professionally fixating on the issue of community and how to build it in a Jewish world, transdenominationally. I want to help people connect on personal, Jewish levels, to answer these needs for each other, and to create more ways to expand and spread this supportive community. I want people to see all the advantages of having opportunities to connect, locally as well as globally, personally as well as professionally – because the lines between these categories seem to be blurring all the time.
Through the process of doing this, I have even found ways to fulfill needs of community for myself. Yet while I have developed plenty of processes for community-building, I do not know of a singular answer to the questions around community – especially when it comes to the simplest ones, like what it is or where to find it. Rather, I believe engaging in the exploratory process is part of the point. I believe that community-building is a life-long journey, and however much effort you invest in it, relationship by relationship, you will see a corresponding reward. That’s the fabric of life, and one I want to teach my children to weave – whether or not I send them to Camp Ramah.
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My English teacher insists that we try not to start off essays with questions. I can’t remember the exact reason why he tells us this, but it has prevented me from starting off this blog with what I was originally intending to say: “what is the one word that can almost sum up how Jews react with one another?” But I did work that question in nicely, didn’t I?
In case you’re wondering, the answer is “community”. Community is the one word that best represents what happens when Jews get together and interact with one another. Think about it, how many times have you been in a room full of Jews, most of whom you hardly know, and you just felt at home? Plenty, right?
I went to a BBG meeting the other day (the girls division of the Jewish Youth Group BBYO), and there must have been 15+ girls there (and that wasn’t even the entire chapter. Some didn’t even come). They all greeted me warmly and spent the time trying to get to know me, and they all genuinely acted like they wanted to be my friend. In fact, they acted like we had already all been friends since forever. It was pretty awesome (and I say that because girls are usually catty and don’t get along well with the “new girl to the group”), and this whole experience got me thinking about all of the other times that I had felt at home with other Jewish people. There was the time I attended a new synagogue (actually, a few new ones, with all of the same results) and everyone greeted me with “Shabbat Shalom” and took the time to get to know me and how I had ended up at their shul, or the time I went to New York and ended up chatting up a fellow Jew about religion, etc.
It’s such an awesome thing to be a part of a community that actually acts like just that-a community. No matter where I’ve ended up in these past few months on my path of The Jewish Journey Less Taken I’ve always felt like old pals with other Jews that I have met. And that is such a great thing, isn’t it, to be a part of such a loving community when the rest of the word can feel so full of hate sometimes? And I must admit, not every religion (and yes, I realize this is generalizing) offers a feeling such as this. I was raised in a predominantly Christian household, and going to church or attending Christian youth groups (and trust me, I went to plenty of each) never felt quite as inviting as it does within the Jewish world.
My assignment for you is to go try out a new Jewish Group (such as something at the JCC, etc.) or go to a new shul and test this out. I can almost guarantee you that you’ll feel welcomed and loved, and you’ll walk out with a feeling of togetherness.
With so much love and adoration,
Kristin the Jewbie
(I would just like to add: Baruch Hashem that we are able to experience such a feeling of community among other Jewish people, because the absolute, pure awesomeness of it is truly beyond words.)
Like any profession, those of us who are Jewish-For-A-Living have a secret language that we use with each other. To the outsider, this language is strange and unfamiliar. And since I believe in openness, here is my own personal WikiLeaks glossary of Jewish non-profit speak. And if this article inspires you to change your non-profit, then let us know, because we’re here to help you.
Jewish Communal Professional: anyone who works for a Jewish non-profit that is specifically Jewish in nature (example: Jewish National Fund, Birthright Israel, PunkTorah). Note that this does not apply to owners of Jewish for-profit businesses, even if they give more tzedekah than the non-profits do.
“Joshua just got a job at Hazon as Director of Youth Projects. We’re so excited to have another Jewish Communal Professional in the family. Too bad he wasn’t a doctor like Gerald.”
Engagement: getting Jews in a room to do something, no matter what it is, and taking credit for it. Ideally, this activity would have some kind of Jewy-ness to it, but even that is open for debate.
“Here at the local JCC we are actively involved in engagement, which is why we host a kosher pizza party once a month in the lobby. And it only takes us three months to plan it, which is great turn around time given all the meetings we have to have.”
Community Building: also called Community Development, this involves getting people to know about what your organization does and getting them to become involved.
“XYZ Jewish Organization is committed to community building, bridging the gap between the people who care about what we’re doing, and the people who could care less.”
Doing Jewish: a term coined by college Hillel (also called Hill-Hell by people who have interned there in their youth), “doing Jewish” is similar to engagement in that it gets Jews doing something Jewish together. The difference is that engagement is more formal, while doing Jewish is more relaxed. It can also mean that you are doing something Jewish right now, and are unavailable to do something else.
“Steven can’t go to the movies tonight. He’s doing Jewish over at the Hillel House on campus. Something about Israel…I don’t remember. I think some Israeli guy is telling everyone about the Floatilla thing that happened three months ago.”
Jewish Leadership Training: no different that any other kind of leadership training, except that there’s a bunch of Jewish folks doing it. The training is usually in the form of an institute, a weekend retreat with something called “breakout sessions” and kosher food despite the fact that no one keeps kosher.
“Adam just got home from Jewish Leadership training in Teaneck. I think it will really help him as the new Director of Engagement.”
Immersion: taking someone and making them “do Jewish” for an extended period of time or with some kind of intensity. Like engagement, but on steroids and more expensive.
“This two year immersion program brings post-college Jews to neighborhoods in Israel to learn language, culture, and build relations between the US and Israel. It’s like Birthright, but for a really, really long time.”
Donor Development: fundraising from people
Strategic Development: fundraising from organizations
Long Term Financial Planning: thinking about fundraising from people and organizations
“Whether you call it donor development, strategic development or long term financial planning, we’re still trying to get people to give us their money. The older folks are the easiest ones.”
Team Building: some kind of pre-meeting activity that reminds you of summer camp or elementary school, is supposed to connect you with your spirit (see Oprah) and get people to learn more about you. Usually very childish, but we put up with it because there’s that one person who will complain if we don’t do it and make our lives really painful until the next meeting.
“Before our meeting of the Temple Sisterhood, I’d like to do a team building activity where we each go around the room and say our name, where we are from, and the name of a fruit that describes us best.”
Communications Management: the process of any large Jewish organization saying something. It usually takes several weeks and involves multiple meetings. The steps are as follows: 1) something happens (see Floatilla). 2) Jewish organization sits around for a while and talks about it. Possibly some team building taking place. 3) Multiple meetings of higher-ups who relay the message to the people lower-on-the-totem-pole. 4) PR person writes an email. It goes to the head honcho who approves it. 5) Email goes out. No one cares.
“We’re really glad that we have a new communications management specialist here at XYZ Organization. She has a masters degree from Brown and knows how to set up Microsoft Outlook. By the way, did anyone hear about Neil Armstrong landing on the moon? Crazy, huh? I just read about it in the Middle Market Jewish Times next to Sheila Rosenbloom’s kugel recipe.”
Jewish Community: three possible definitions for this. 1) The number of Jews in a city (how this is determined is still unknown). 2) The number of people in a given city that are involved with Jewish organizations (also called the Active Jewish Community). This number is usually 25% of the bigger number. 3) The number of Active Jewish Community people who go to events regularly and take on some role of prominence. This number is about 1% of the active Jewish Community.
So to recap: there are 100,000 Jews in Atlanta. 25,000 are active. 250 are really active. So how big is the community? We’re still not sure. But darn it if we’re not gonna get them active!
“He’s really active in building the Jewish community. Thirty people came to that JCC kosher pizza party. It was incredible. David Kleinbloom was there talking about Jewish immersion programs. Lots of engagement. Really great. I bet they got a lot of development out of it. But really, it’s about getting the Jewish communal professionals together to discuss communications management and community building. It’s a real exercise for the JCC, too. Good thing they all went to Jewish Leadership training.”