Do We Need National Organizations?

Originally published on eJewishPhilanthropy.com, February 24, 2014 
http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/do-we-need-national-organizations/

by Joe Kanfer and Marcella Kanfer Rolnick

2014 will see the closing of two organizations that have been part of the landscape of American Jewish life for more than a generation. The announcement towards the end of last year by the Foundation for Jewish Culture (FJC) that it decided to wind down its operations, following soon after a similar announcement from JESNA (Jewish Education Service of North America), was greeted with relative equanimity in the Jewish media. In part, this may be due to the fact that, to their credit, the leaders of both organizations have thus far managed the close down process with dignity and deliberation, and without recriminations or desperate appeals for support. But, it likely also reflects a sentiment apparently shared by many observers that changing times not only made national organizations like FJC and JESNA financially unsustainable, but rendered the very model of national umbrella organizations serving a broad field and acting primarily as intermediary agents and support systems outmoded.

But, is this premise true? Continue reading

An Invitation to Join Us on an Exciting Journey

American Jewish Life in Transition

The launch of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah comes at a time when many American Jews are once again looking in the mirror and pondering the image they see.  Whether the most recent portrait, painted by a large-scale survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, leaves one hopeful or distressed, there is one fact that it is incontestable:  American Jewish life today is diverse, dynamic, and multi-faceted, perhaps more so than ever in the past.

Traditional avenues for Jewish involvement – synagogues, communal organizations, Israel – still speak powerfully to many Jews.  But, many others are seeking new and different ways to express their sense of Jewishness, either as supplements to or substitutes for these traditional modes.  And, for the vast majority of Jews, the major factor that determines whether and how they will activate their Jewishness is encapsulated in a simple question:  Do the Jewish institutions, experiences, people and teachings they encounter enrich and provide real value for their lives?

Fostering Living Torah

We believe that the answer to this question can and should be resoundingly affirmative.  We believe that Jewish wisdom, sensibilities, and experiences can help people lead more purposeful and fulfilling lives.  We believe that Judaism is a dynamic, evolving wellspring in ongoing dialogue with the world around it, and brings a powerful vocabulary of accumulating wisdom to this conversation.  We believe that this vocabulary has grown and changed over time and must continue to do so, but that such change should be made with deep respect for and knowledge of  the insights embodied in our texts, traditions, and historical experience.  We believe that this wisdom is the collective product of all those who have grappled with Torah over the centuries and have used it to illuminate, guide, and ennoble their lives.  We call this “Living Torah,” and seek to place ourselves in this continuum of Torah wrestlers, aiming thereby to keep Torah alive and vibrant.  And, we believe that this Living Torah can be a force for change beyond our own community, as Jews and “Fellow Travelers” from all backgrounds, inspired and guided by its wisdom, act to repair and perfect the world.

Many Jews today have never encountered this kind of Torah.  Happily, we see a movement of individuals, organizations, and even self-organizing groups taking shape across Jewish communities that are offering a growing number of opportunities to change this reality.  Through an exhilarating variety of approaches – from lively and penetrating text study, to creative forms of ritual and spiritual practice, to active pursuit of a more just and sustainable world – they are connecting Jews and others to Jewish wisdom, sensibilities, and experiences that are enriching people’s lives and inspiring them to incorporate Jewish insights and practices into their daily actions in ways both traditional and new.  This movement for Living Torah – one that includes rabbis and educators, grass-roots activists and philanthropists, entrepreneurial innovators and national organizational systems, thought leaders and Jews-on-the-street – has the potential to reshape and reinvigorate American Jewish life in the 21st century.

Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah:  Our Role and Our Invitation

As a foundation, we are privileged to identify with and support this movement.  We take seriously the role we can play in helping to nurture and accelerate its growth.  We plan to do this in a variety of ways — through identifying and disseminating principles of effective practice, sharing the vivid stories of those who are part of this endeavor, grant-making, network- and capacity-building, and being a trusted ally and forceful advocate.

Above all, we seek to be a good partner with others on the journey, learning and sharing our insights as we go.  This movement for Living Torah is still a work in progress.  We want to work with you all to shape the content and concepts that define it, to refine its methods and tools, to forge stronger connections among its members, and to enable it to reach broader constituencies.

We are near the beginning of our journey as a foundation and want and need your insights, your suggestions, your critiques.

Do you see the American Jewish scene today as we do?  Do you sense the moment we sense? What are we missing?  Where are the arenas of opportunity?  How can we work together to make a meaningful difference?  What are the challenges?

Please post a comment to share your thoughts and your experiences.

Please visit our Resources page to read other thoughts about Living Torah and contemporary Jewish life, and please give us your suggestions for additional resources we can make available.

This is a time of both discontinuity and great opportunity for American Jewry, its institutions, and its philanthropists.  We want to do our part to meet the challenge and seize the opportunity.   We look forward to partnering with you in this endeavor.

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