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Future-Proofing the Jewish Communal Landscape

February 4, 2020

I came to the world of Jewish philanthropy two years ago with no direct experience, other than having a strong Jewish identity rooted in some magical experiences as a kid…from spending summers in Tel Aviv with my grandparents, to my bat mitzvah where despite some serious nerves I felt confident leading a room for the first time, to teen retreats at Camp Newman where to this day I can close my eyes and feel my community’s arms around me singing during Havdalah, to having children and for the first time wanting to make Jewish traditions & holidays my own. 

But that was it. I had no context for the organizational ecosystem, no deeper understanding of the Jewish people other than what I had personally seen. So, when my family started our foundation in May 2018, my first step was to build evidence for investment towards our goal of creating meaningful Jewish community for the next generation. Philanthropy has a critical role to play in our Jewish future & one I didn’t want to waste; for my parents, for my community and for my children. While our foundation has a predominately hyper-local focus on the San Francisco East Bay Area, the lessons apply much more broadly. Here’s what I’ve learned (so far!):

Our market penetration is low! Only 20% of our Bay Area community is showing up Jewishly1, and our most active participants are heavily weighted towards Ashkenormative populations. This presents a huge opportunity to reach more of our community with meaningful Jewish activities & relationships. 

Our community is changing dramatically. The vast majority of young adult Jews are marrying outside of the faith. Between 12-15% of our national population are Jews of Color and between 10-25% of households include a person of color2. This means while we’re already quite diverse, the next generation will be even more so. This is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen Jewish traditions, expand holiday celebrations and bring in new ways of thinking. But we have to start evolving now in order to ensure everyone feels like they belong in the Jewish community.

The landscape is evolving dramatically. Cost of living is rising, meaning many of our most vulnerable populations are moving further and further out from city centers…Jewish professionals, families with kids, etc. At the same time, there has been great innovation in Jewish life & new Jewish non-profits are popping up – meaning the average Jew has more choices today to engage Jewishly. This is re-invigorating Jewish life and at the same time adding complexities around how people find meaningful activities, navigate their local Jewish experiences and build community. Our Jewish communal ecosystem needs to evolve accordingly.

The only thing certain is that our Jewish future will look different than our present. So how do we as a community start future-proofing? I believe in lifting up the great work happening today rooted in Jewish traditions (there is a LOT!), investing in leaders & organizations who are disrupting the status quo to reach those members of our community who are not showing up today, fostering deep collaboration between organizations and looking at the underlying organizational ecosystem to address the ever-changing landscape. 

Funding the Slingshot “10 to Watch” list was one of our early steps in surfacing leaders & organizations who are meaningfully disrupting the status quo. And the proof is in the pudding…the inaugural list showcases an incredible diversity of approaches to Jewish life & Jewish leaders that are already making a difference. With emerging ideas from Nevada to Maine to Ontario, spanning all levels of affiliation & religious observance, and covering 18 different program areas, the list shines a light on a path forward for our community as varied as our people. It’s highlighting approaches, programs & organizations that can be scaled or replicated in other cities to help us collectively, build the Jewish community of tomorrow. 

The beautiful part of this work is that there is no one right way. We will be stronger for all the different methods to ensure a long & meaningful future for the Jewish people. What are yours? 

Elana is a next-gen funder of Slingshot. She serves as President & CEO of the Rodan Family Foundation, where she leads strategic, evidenced-based giving towards the foundation’s goals. Prior to that, Elana worked for nearly 10 years at Rodan + Fields with a focus on digital marketing in a peer-driven model. Elana received a bachelor’s degree in Human Development from the University of California, Davis.

1: 2017 Community Study, Jewish Community Federation & Endowment Fund, Bay Area

2: Jews of Color Field Building, “Counting Inconsistencies”