We’re in a panel now titled, A Community in Crisis? Reflections on Gender, Generations, Diversity, and the Jewish Future. Join us online at http://www.ssw.umich.edu/programs/JCLP/video.html

1:29 A few highlights from panelists thus far:

David Schoem, sociologist, argued that there is no crisis in the Jewish community, but there may well be one in Jewish organizations. Being in Michigan, he used a car metaphor (which I’ll quote approximately here): Many major Jewish organizations are offering gas-guzzling SUVs, but most Jews are driving Priuses.

Clare Kinberg, editor of Bridges, said that over her 20 years of writing about the community, she hasn’t been worried about the community’s future. Why? Because she’s been surrounded by the people who create Jewish community for themselves, usually outside of the mainstream. She also pointed to the diversity of the Jewish community, and the segregation of both the Jewish community and society at large.

1:35: Harlene Appelman, executive director of the Covenant Foundation, echoed some of Clare’s comments, saying that a lot was going on outside of the big Jewish institutions. If institutions are threatened by that, then they should make room for it!

However, she does add a note of caution about the “less sexy” causes like elder care, services for people with disabilities, etc. These do tend to happen in the organized community–and need is growing, not shrinking.

1:44: Shifra Broznik echoes Harlene’s last point, with an emphasis on an aging population and caregiving needs. She adds that when caregiving for the elderly is individualized, it tends to fall on women. So just as she challenges large organizations to take on social justice issues, she challenges innovative and social justice organizations not to shirk from issues like these.

Debra Barton Grant, executive VP of the (small) Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley, agrees and points out that in a small community like hers, all of these issues have to be address.

David Shoem builds off of this and enlarges it, pointing to the need for the Jewish community to embrace universal solutions like universal health care and poverty elimination.

2:01 After some discussion of Jews doing innovative work outside the Jewish community (even when Jewish organizations aren’t), David Shoem extends his car industry metaphor, asking if it’s time for a radical restructuring, with leaders stepping aside.

An audience member (couldn’t see her nametag) then comments that she’s with a major Jewish organization, and that she’s feeling bashed. She points out that many Jewish organizations are involved in social justice work, particularly pointing to the Reform movement.

Another audience member suggests that major restructuring is probably coming (and says that Bernie Madoff may have contributed to it). Harlene builds on this, saying that because of that, there may have to be more emphasis on fundraising from the base, which many organizations have eschewed to some extent in favor of big donors.

Shep Englander comments that the question with new fundraising issues is HOW we respond to them, and whether we do so in an us-and-them way or by trying to keep the sector as a whole strong.

2:12 Ruth Messinger points out that there have been articles written in response to the financial crisis that it’s time to get back to the basics. This would have very negative implications for innovative organizations that have come up within recent years! She points out that these organizations didn’t just fluorish because there was funding available, but because they filled huge needs, and those needs still exist.

2:27 Seeing how this is a conversation at a university about a Jewish Communal leadership program (Remember Alice? This is a song about Alice…), the conversation turns to discussion of what needs to be in such a program. it’s fast and furious, but a few highlights:

–Shep Englander of the Detroit Jewish Federation says that he often hires business students because they tend to be good at staategic thinking–but they often have trouble leading through influence rather than power.

–Later, a few underduates speak on what’s been important to them in developing Jewish identities, mentioning choice in whether they wish to attend Jewish programming (like religious school) and Jewish camping. David follows up by emphasizing the voices of young adults, saying that we have to take seriously what they have to say.

–Keren McGinity, who studies relationships and intermarriage, raises the question of Jewish identity and matrilineal or patrilineal descent. How does the traditional (though not universal, of course) approach to Jewish identity as matrilineal impact the community?