Next Gen­er­a­tion Judaism: How Col­lege Stu­dents and Hil­lel Can Help Rein­vent Jew­ish Organizations

  • Review
By – December 22, 2016

Next Gen­er­a­tion Judaism by Rab­bi Mike Uram, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Hil­lel at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, is an impor­tant read for both Jew­ish pro­fes­sion­als and lay lead­ers who are in search of a new, gal­va­niz­ing par­a­digm for their institution’s trans­for­ma­tion. The core ques­tion of the book is found in the intro­duc­tion: How can estab­lish­ment orga­ni­za­tions begin to rein­vent them­selves so that they are rel­e­vant to both their core con­stituen­cies and the ever-grow­ing group of Jews who are post-insti­tu­tion­al in their orientation?”

The book opens by pro­vid­ing a snap­shot of the chang­ing nature of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, and how Mil­len­ni­als are seek­ing a con­nec­tion to Jew­ish life far dif­fer­ent from what most Jew­ish insti­tu­tions are pre­pared to pro­vide. In the third chap­ter, seek­ing a solu­tion to this chal­lenge, the author explores how inno­v­a­tive think­ing has served the for-prof­it world, and might be uti­lized in the Jew­ish not-for-prof­it. Doing this, Uram writes, requires and hon­est con­ver­sa­tion about the lim­i­ta­tions of the cur­rent mod­els we have for Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions as well as the will­ing­ness to take new risks.” The fourth chap­ter of Next Gen­er­a­tion Judaism is devot­ed Penn Hillel’s estab­lish­ment of the Jew­ish Renais­sance Project ini­tia­tive (JRP), designed to reach stu­dents that might not oth­er­wise affil­i­ate them­selves with exist­ing pro­grams, by meet­ing them on their terms and out­side of the brick-and-mor­tar mod­el of most Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions. The chap­ter con­cludes with an exam­i­na­tion of how one might apply the JRP mod­el to oth­er organizations.

Expand­ing upon the lessons learned through the devel­op­ment of JRP, chap­ters five through eight con­sid­er how Jew­ish lead­er­ship might incor­po­rate exist­ing edu­ca­tion­al phi­los­o­phy and com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment the­o­ry in rethink­ing their institution’s pri­or­i­ties. For exam­ple, chap­ter six sug­gests that Jew­ish agen­cies are focused more on the needs of the insti­tu­tion than on the needs of the indi­vid­u­als or com­mu­ni­ties they rep­re­sent”; revers­ing these pri­or­i­ties will yield greater impact and fos­ter a for­ward-think­ing cul­ture that attracts the fund­ing and tal­ent need­ed for long-term growth. Chap­ter nine trans­lates the the­o­ry of ear­li­er chap­ters into prac­tice, while explor­ing how the Jew­ish Renais­sance Project uti­lized peer-to-peer engage­ment to max­i­mize impact with lim­it­ed resources.

Next Gen­er­a­tion Judaism is both crit­i­cal of the cur­rent approach and opti­mistic in pre­sent­ing new pos­si­bil­i­ties for trans­form­ing Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions — and, by exten­sion, the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty — into a net­work of vibrant cen­ters of engage­ment. As Dr. Ron Wolf­son shares in the Fore­word, Rab­bi Uram shares with us all that he has learned about how to invite Jews into a rela­tion­ship with a Judaism of mean­ing and pur­pose, belong­ing and bless­ing.” Next Gen­er­a­tion Judaism will inspire read­ers to con­sid­er how they might be part of the rev­o­lu­tion that Rab­bi Uram so pas­sion­ate­ly, artic­u­late­ly, and prag­mat­i­cal­ly shares with his readers.

Jonathan Fass is the Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Edu­ca­tion­al Tech­nol­o­gy and Strat­e­gy at The Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion Project of New York.

Discussion Questions