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 Chief Operating Officer of Jewish Family Service in Stamford, CT.