One of the more interesting programs offered by Federation and the JCC last fall, was our JTalk Zoom Series, which featured community members sharing their skills and expertise on a broad range of topics. Among the presentations was one given by HJN editor, Wendy Schneider, titled “The Way We Were: Highlights from the Jewish Hamilton Project,” in which she shared excerpts from the oral history she created in 2009 in collaboration with McMaster University professor Billy Shaffir.
Listening to the recollections, reminiscences and reflections of the Jewish Hamiltonians interviewed as part of the project, and the comments of those on the call, I got a taste of the vibrancy of the Hamilton Jewish community in the early years of the 20th century. It was a different community then for sure, with different circumstances, priorities and needs. It was interesting for me to learn more about the history of this community, and to reflect on the societal trends that have influenced how our community has evolved to where it is today.
In an article titled, “Saving Jewish Organizations from Themselves,” Jeffrey R. Solomon, who is the former president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, writes that the future of Jewish life in North America depends on Jewish communal organizations’ willingness to “invest in and incentivize organizational change in whatever ways we can.”
He writes, “We must reflect and understand why so many Jewish organizations lack the core elements that support organizational flexibility and success: strong governance, healthy staff cultures, and data-informed decision-making versus personal feelings or personal needs decision making.”
Solomon goes on to say that, in today’s world, “Jewishness is, at best, only a part of the way that most Jews identify themselves.” As a result of the “incredible access and success” that North American Jews have enjoyed over the last 100 years, Jewish donors are just as likely to fund the arts, healthcare and higher education institutions as they are to fund Jewish institutions. Collective responsibility is seen less as an imperative and our young adults’ connection to Israel is tenuous and under great strain.
All of this presents us with an opportunity to reflect on how the organized Jewish community must adapt to new realities. Notwithstanding the amazing ways in which our Jewish organizations have responded to the effects of a global pandemic, I believe that it’s now time to reimagine and reinvent ourselves. My hope is to engage many of you in conversations about Jewish identity and Jewish community in the interest of creating the conditions that will ensure our future as a vibrant Jewish community. As a start, I’d like you to reflect on the following questions:
• What is your definition of the Jewish community?
• How important is your Jewish identity, and what is its relevance to your everyday life?
• What are the key ingredients to a vibrant Jewish community?
• Most importantly, what role do you see yourself having in creating a vibrant Jewish community?
I’d like to close with the following thoughts expressed so eloquently by Jeffrey Solomon: “Jewish history is full of stories of amazing resilience. New challenges and opportunities have led, over and over again, to radical changes in Jewish communal life, driven by life-affirming Jewish values. This past should reassure us that change is possible yet again. The challenges of the current moment require us to embrace the double helix of vision, mission, and human resources. Our memories will never exceed our dreams. We can–and we must–adapt.”