After 18 months of planning and under the leadership of Cheryl Tonkin and Ed Tonkin, the first ever Food for Thought Festival is just one week away – April 18-21. Do not miss out on the exciting four days of activities and programs – I promise there is something for everyone. Visit www.foodforthoughtpdx.org to see the entire schedule and register for the events you wish to attend (many are selling out).
In addition, check out this fun video made by Cheryl and Ed. They are terrific!
This past week I had two separate meetings with and about Jewish young adult activities here in Portland. One group shared their troubling frustration with finding Jewish activities for young adults, especially those that were more culturally oriented and did not include a fundraising appeal. Another group shared its model of reaching young adults via multiple monthly activities with no barriers to entry. Unfortunately, the crossover in participation between these groups was almost nil.
Our population study estimates that there are between 5,000-6,000 Jewish young adults (ages 22-40) in Greater Portland. They are all in different life stages – single, dating, married, have children, no children, from Portland, moved here, etc. Yet the one common denominator is that they are seeking (Jewish) connections with others.
We all recognize that the world continues to change. In the case of young adults, more than likely in the 1970s and 1980s when Jews post-college decided to stay here or moved here, their first phone call was often to a synagogue, the Jewish Federation or the Jewish Community Center (or at least people steered them in that direction). People sought Jewish connections via Jewish institutions. Today, young people instead go to their Facebook page or tweet out announcing they are moving to or in Portland and ask their “friends” for ideas. Suddenly, multiple sources provide them insights on who to meet, what to do (Jewishly), and where to live. Too often, however, the Jewish connections become individual-based and not community-based. And who provides those insights can dramatically influence people’s participation in Jewish life. This goes hand-in-hand in how young people find Jewish activities.
Many years ago, the main young adult group in Portland was Federation’s young leadership program. Today, there are a myriad of Jewish young adult groups (at least 7 that I know of and perhaps more) – each with its own mission, niche group of participants, and culture. They are not in competition with one another – they are complementary.
We must realize that no one organization can succeed by itself. We have a Jewish ecosystem that creates “building blocks” for people’s participation. People move through that ecosystem and find various avenues for their Jewish involvement at different points in their lives and with different people. The only way we can create a magnificent Jewish young adult effort (and Jewish community) is by working with one another. There is a new buzzword that I love – “co-opetition” – that is where our energy and attention should be focused.
Traditional Jewish institutions are no longer the “only game in town” for Jewish life. They are, however, an important and major component in the daily routine of Jewish Portland. Without them we would have no community. But, today, micro-communities are being formed everywhere we turn and people are creating their own personal Jewish ecosystem…based on their terms and interests.
We have all lived with the assumptions about what works in Jewish life (Federation, synagogues, Jewish schools, Jewish service organizations, etc), what the metrics for success are, and how we organize and deploy resources. Many of these assumptions need to be changed. The ideals of “community” and “Jewish values” are being redefined on a daily basis. In a world of constant change we must focus our attention on being ever-changing.
Look at the business world today. It demands efficiency and openness, thrift and inspiring ambition, nimbleness and a workplace that fosters creativity. Our Jewish community, especially for the young adults, can be no different.
I believe that the young people I met earlier this week are the leaders of the future who will steer our current and future communal institutions toward more sophisticated models. As Mark Parker, CEO of Nike recently said, “My role is to identify and disrupt areas that threaten to become static.” That is what these young leaders are doing for our community. They want more. They want connections. They want a vibrant Jewish community. They want “co-opetition.” And they are willing to fully and openly embrace that challenge.