Peoplehood & Pluralism 100 Years Ago

The latest edition of the Peoplehood Papers focuses on "Peoplehood in the Age of Pluralism." In this edition of J-Vault, we'll see that elements of this current conversation are, of course, anything but new.

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From the J-Vault: The Lesson It Teaches Us: Campaign to Raise Four Million Dollars in a Fortnight by the Young Men's and Young Women's Christian Association (1913)

Falk Younger outlines the genesis of the YMCA movement, in a passage with obvious relevance to modern Jewish communities:

In England, about seventy years ago, a small group of earnest, liberal and highminded men met in conference to consider what could be done to keep within the fold the large number of young men who were rapidly drifting away from the influence of the church. They realized that the emphasis that was laid upon ritual and ceremony by the various denominations at the time, and which aroused more or less feeling and dissension among them, did not appeal to the young men and that some means must be devised to retain their fidelity and devotion to Christian ideals... something practical was needed to properly guide them and aid them to recognize the fact that to lead a clean, honest and upright life is not after all such a lonesome job, and that to be a church member does not necessarily mean to be serious at all times and to wear a long, sad face.

Younger goes on to describe the founding of the YMHA and YWHA along the same lines, as a means of engaging the next generation of Jews. But the mission of these community centers goes beyond engagement, he writes, and into topics related to what we would now describe as both peoplehood and pluralism:

All those truly interested in the progress of Jewish affairs must deeply deplore the lack of union in our midst and the consequent waste of energy. This condition of affairs is often disheartening to those most optimistic. Our communities are divided and sub-divided, and each faction attempts to go its own way, and a lack of sympathetic co-operation is manifest everywhere, especially when it comes to questions concerning the good name and general welfare of all, when it is absolutely necessary that we should work in unison as a people...
Let us therefore be Orthodox or Reformed, as our feelings may prompt; but above all things, wc must learn to understand that questions of detail regarding religious forms and ceremonies are matters concerning which we may honestly differ. Our influence for good in the world surely does not hang on these things. If our mission as a priest people is to mean something more than an empty boast, an idle dream, or mere play with words' and the world shall some day witness the realization of this ideal, let us emphasize the many things we have in common that demand our hearty co-operation rather than those minor matters in reference to which we may hold different views. We may have diversity of opinion and at the same time have perfect union when it comes to the solution of important problems...

Judaism today needs—aye, is weeping for—a class of young men and women who will come forward and be broad, liberal, generous and tolerant as well as magnanimous in spirit. Such young men and women must assert their Judaism, not by constantly referring to the forms and ceremonies they keep or have cast aside, or by boasting of the food they eat or do not cat; that they pray in Hebrew or in English, as the case may be, or with head covered or uncovered. No, not so our methods. Let the purity, integrity and virtue of our lives, our characters, our modesty, culture and refinement as well as our devotion to all that is lofty and elevating proclaim our Jewishness.

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What Do We Owe Peter Stuyvesant? Jewish and Non-Sectarian Social Services

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"In 1652, Peter Stuyvesant, Governor of New Amsterdam, now New York, received a promise from the Jews who came to settle there that they (the Jews) would care for their own poor. Ever since then, the Jews of this country have prided themselves that this sacred promise which the first Jewish settlers in America made has never been broken."

With this quote I.M. Rubinow opens his discussion of the relationship between Jewish social services and the broader social and economic trends, questioning whether the story reflects "good history", and, more importantly, challenging the notion that it reflects "good sociology, good social ethics or good social work."

From the J-Vault: What Do We Owe to Peter Stuyvesant? (1930)

Speaking at the National Conference of Jewish Social Service, Rubinow asks: "Have we made a promise? Just what kind of a promise did we make? Have we fulfilled the pledge? And is the promise still binding?" The original promise not to be "a burden" was originally a concession to "Stuyvesant's bigotry", according to sources Rubinow quotes.

If this be a promise, evidently it was obtained under duress, under threat of expulsion... It would be funny if it were not so sad. For as a matter of fact, this whole misconception, supported by a curious mixture of holy tradition, race pride, and a typical Jewish sense of group guilt, has definitely colored both the theory and practice of our work, and much of the social philosophy of the American Jewish community. No more tragic illustration may be found of the truth of the statement that necessity may be made into a virtue...

In any event, Rubinow explains, this "promise" has not really been kept:

non-Jewish contributions have been made to Jewish drives and campaigns. They have been diplomatically solicited in secret. Just why do we find a situation of this nature so very damaging to our pride? Is it because we are still a "chosen people" ? Is it because we still live in a ghetto and must not disclose our sores to the enemy? Is it because we are so proud, or because we are afraid to admit the ugly truth?

Rubinow argues that the truth is that the Jewish community cannot continue to conceive of its socioeconomic needs as existing in a vacuum:

Jewish poverty is not a result of intra-group conditions. It is a part and parcel of the whole economic and social problem of wealth production and wealth accumulation of the country as a whole. The expectation that the problem of Jewish poverty can be met individually, may be hoped to be eliminated irrespective of those general economic forces, is an expression of excessive group pride uncontrolled by scientific research and thinking. The sermon of independent group responsibility becomes a definite anti-social force if it destroys Jewish force—if it destroys Jewish interest, and Jewish participation in national progressive social movements.

Jewish communal and social service should not therefore be subsumed into larger social movements, however:

Jewish social service... has largely grown for at least three reasons: (1) To perform functions which, otherwise, would have been left undone. (2) To give expression to the need and desire of communal co-operation. (3) To enable the Jewish minority to make its contribution to development of cultural, ethical and even social values and concepts in the community in which we live.

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A Nonprofit Leader Who Really Did Shut It Down

Ephraim Gopin, writing for eJewish Philanthropy:

I read with great interest the point-counterpoint by Robert Evans, Avrum Lapin and Seth Chalmer featured on eJewish Philanthropy recently. As someone who has recommended to a nonprofit Board to cease operations, I feel I have a unique perspective on the issue...

...There are too many nonprofits and institutions in Israel. I firmly believe that merging nonprofits with similar missions will create a more stable, vibrant sector where long term well-being and strategy are dominant, as opposed to the pettiness of “kavod” – honor – taking center stage...

...Israel has 40,000 registered nonprofits – 5-10,000 of which are active at any given time. We all know that a great percentage of them depend on overseas funding for survival. With the world recession and federations keeping more funds at home, we should be REDUCING the number of nonprofits here seeking funding overseas.

I am well aware of the dangers of merging – job and salary slashing being the worst. However, we should encourage this behavior because the alternative is worse: nonprofits who are debt-ridden, can’t pay salaries or suppliers, may have to shut down. In that case, everyone is out of a job. Donors and foundations should be pushing similar mission-oriented nonprofits to merge, as a means of survival if nothing else.

Lest you say I talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, here’s my story: I recommended to the Board of a nonprofit I headed to cease operations.

When I settled into the CEO chair and began looking over the financials, I was shocked: the organization was in major debt. When I sat with the CFO, we tried every which way to avoid the “cut, slash, burn and trim” method of nonprofit management. To no avail; the pit was too deep.

Finally, after all options had been exhausted, I sat with the Board and told them unequivocally: We need to cease operations immediately, declare bankruptcy and try to find another nonprofit to take over operating the facility... In this manner, we hoped to save as many staff jobs as possible and work on an arrangement where the nonprofit who takes over would repay the debt to suppliers.

I know there are too many nonprofits, too many institutions in Israel. Some are in debt, are behind in paying staff and suppliers and yet they refuse to shut down. I also know that upper management would never “fire themselves.” But something has to be done because, when a recession hits, the whole sector suffers enough. The problem is compounded when, in reality, a little forethought would have made the sector stronger, not weaker.

Gopin's perspective and unique experience is a welcome addition to the conversation, and a welcome reminder that waste and redundancy truly are present and problematic.

It's worth noting that the nonprofit sectors in Israel and the United States are quite different. The American combination of unprecedented commitment to private charity along with a comparatively meager government social safety net makes the US nonprofit sector rather a different beast from its counterparts not only in Israel, but really everywhere else, at least in many ways.

For the Jewish nonprofit sector in particular, it is also of great import that in America, voluntary associations, congregations and nonprofit organizations constitute the entirety of Jewish communal expression, whereas in Israel the very State itself is a Jewish organization.

These two differences -- in the relationship of nonprofits to the State, and in the relationship of Jewishness to the State -- are bound to affect the ways in which each country's Jewish nonprofit sector conceives of itself, and is likely to affect questions of efficiency, redundancy, ideological diversity, and more.

For more reading on charitable sector leaders intentionally putting themselves out of a job, I suggest reading up on the AVI CHAI Foundation's decision to spend down and sunset itself.

From the J-Vault: When Government Cuts Social Services Funding

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"What price will we pay for state aids to religiously sponsored institutions and agencies?" asked Philip Jacobson:

What effect are these aids likely to have on our voluntary institutions? Is there a danger here for the American Jewish community...?

...Will federation boards come to take for granted the continued availability of tax dollars, and devote funds to other purposes?... What will happen if and when these tax dollars are no longer forthcoming?

This week, from the J-Vault: Community Relations Implications in the Use of Public Funds by Jewish Services (1960)

Today, Congress attempts to cut federal spending drastically. In 1960, writing in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service, Jacobson warned that for religious institutions, accepting public funding for social services was a dangerous game. Most of his argument leans on a strict interpretation of the First Amendment; he worries that Jewish and other religious social service agencies will either be complicit in eroding the separation of church and state or in eroding their own sectarian missions in order not to do so. But Jacobson also worries that in accepting  public funds, Jewish (and other sectarian) agencies will set themselves up for a hard fall if those funds were to be cut off.

However, "I am not an advocate of abrupt withdrawal," he writes. "[T]he patient has been addicted to heavy injections for some time and the cold turkey
treatment does not seem to be warranted."

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From the J-Vault: The Modern Bet Din

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Yesterday we noted Presidential candidate Herman Cain's objection to the practice of Islam in America because Shari'a is a system of laws -- just like Halakhah. Today, a closer look at a publication that was linked in that blog post, demonstrating that American religious communities have been engaging with religious law alongside secular law for generations.

This week, from the J-Vault: The Modern Bet Din (1938)

Writing in Jewish Social Service Quarterly (predecessor to the Journal of Jewish Communal Service), William I. Boxerman describes the establishment of a Jewish court of arbitration in Baltimore:

Perhaps never was the need greater for eliminating from the regular courts such controversies as tend to bring discredit upon the Jewish people as a whole. For, with the rising tide of anti-Semitism, our defamers seize readily upon incidents which support their stereotypes of the Jew as an undesirable citizen...

...Furthermore, a Jewish court meets other definite needs in the community. Often the problems presented should not come into the regular courts because they concern Jewish tradition, religious observances, etc., which cannot be understood easily by a non-Jewish judge or jury... Sometimes, too, the courts offer no relief for the aggrieved individual because the offense against him is not punishable under the law; whereas in the Jewish court, which is not limited in its scope by the statutes, he may find a ready remedy...

...The value of the Jewish Court in providing an emotional outlet for individuals who feel themselves wronged should not be overlooked. The award actually entered in a case is sometimes not nearly so important to the client as the opportunity for expressing his feelings, for having himself declared to be in the right and thus vindicated before an impartial body...

...Because of the expense involved, many individuals with rightful claims cannot file suit in the established courts... The cost of the litigation in such a case would be prohibitive. Many clients cannot even advance the necessary attorney's fees. These claims, however, may be heard in the Jewish Court without charge...

...The procedure is informal; the arbitrators in each case may make and adopt their own rules. This individualized treatment has worked very satisfactorily. Litigants and their witnesses testify under oath; it has been found that the psychological effect of taking, an oath is even more important when the rest of the proceedings take place in an informal atmosphere. During the progress of the hearing, the arbitrators may interrupt as often as they wish in order to ask questions, to clarify points, or to elicit pertinent facts from the witnesses... The participants may speak either in English or in Yiddish... Since the hearing is not open to the general public, an individual need have no hesitation about discussing details which he would be reluctant to relate before outsiders.

The court does not adhere to the rules of evidence. This adds to the informality. Hearsay evidence, unsupported statements, and beliefs, all of which are taboo in the law courts, may be introduced. Lawyers may represent their clients before the court, but the absence of legal "red tape" has sometimes proved annoying to them. In one hearing, an attorney coud hardly control his wrath because the arbitrator repeatedly reminded him that he could not "object" to hearsay evidence.

Boxerman goes on to provide examples of cases brought before the court. Download the publication if you want to hear the description beginning:

"Galician swine, trying to cheat us on the dead!"
"Roumanian schnorrers! We don't owe you a cent!"

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Baby Boomer Encore Careers: Impeding the Youth?

Kicking off our discussion of public service encore careers for retiring baby boomers, an attendee of our 9/21 event (who wishes to remain anonymous) writes:

Has anyone mentioned the fact that giving all of the good jobs to older people with private sector experience is invalidating and professionally limiting for younger people who are choosing to prepare and work in this field from an earlier point in their careers?

What do you think? If the Jewish community does seek to tap the talents of retiring Baby Boomers for public service, do the benefits outweigh any potential damage to the Jewish communal recruitment pipeline?

Feel free to respond by clicking "Comments" below this post, or email to submit a posting of your own.

Opening an Online Dialogue on Baby Boomers and Public Service

Jewish organizations are ill-positioned to tap the skills and experience of the many Jewish Baby Boomers who see retirement as a time for "encore careers."

This was the major finding of a discussion with senior leaders in the Jewish community based on a new report from NYU Wagner Professor David Elcott, "Baby Boomers, Public Service, and Minority Communities: A Case Study of the Jewish Community in the United States." (For a summary of other key findings, click here. For a podcast of the event itself, click here.)

The discussion was moderated by the Jewish Week's Gary Rosenblatt and featured Stuart Himmelfarb and Roberta Leiner. It was hosted by BJPA @ NYU Wagner and the Research Center for Leadership in Action at NYU Wagner on 9/21.

To promote an exchange of ideas, the Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner is initiating a conversation on this blog on the topic of engaging retiring Baby Boomers in public service Encore careers. This conversation will take the form of guest blog posts, which we hope will come from a variety of institutional, generational and professional perspectives -- perhaps including your own.

Among the questions we’d like to address are:

  • How do the report findings comport with your own impressions?
  • Which current programs or practices address the issue of effectively capitalizing on Baby Boomers’ talents and expertise while meeting their needs, and what can we learn from them?
  • What steps should policymakers and practitioners be taking and in what order of priority?

For an example of an institutional view of ongoing efforts, see this article by Roberta Leiner, discussing the UJA-Federation of New York's ongoing approach to this issue.

We look forward to hearing about initiatives in your organization or community, your concerns or current challenges, or your thoughts on new ways forward. If you would like to contribute a posting to this discussion, whether as brief as a paragraph, or as long as a few pages, please email In any event, check our blog frequently to read what others are contributing.

What's Your #ish? - Campaigning Through Active Listening

By now, many of you have probably seen the Jewish Federations of North America #ish campaign.

JFNA, with the help of its marketing agencies, is asking you (especially if you're 18-36) to share your #ish - something about what being Jewish means to you - on Twitter, Facebook, or their own microsite.

In return for each #ish shared, Federation promises to donate 25 cents, up to a total of $50,000. But the campaign isn't about fundraising - the total budget of the campaign i about 250k-300k. It's about branding and awareness and reaching out to young adults.

It's an interesting strategy.

Derek Shevel, creative director at Taxi New York, says it is important that the campaign “can’t feel too much like advertising,” because “you’ve got to open up a conversation where” the members of the target audience “feel they’re controlling it.”-New York Times, May 16th, "You Don't Have to Be Jewish to Love this Campaign"

This approach resonates with research on the Jewish idenitity of young people. In "Grande Soy Vanilla Latte with Cinnamon, No Foam..." Jewish Identity and Community in a Time of Unlimited Choices, for example, discusses how the cultural emphasis on choice, even to a consumeristic extent of defining and having things exactly as you like them, has trickled down into the way that young adults approach their conception of themselves as Jews. "What's your #ish?" seems tailored to appeal to that impulse. It's personal, not institutional.

The study also found that, in fact, young Jews have less awareness and feel little connection to even major Jewish institutional organizations - a state that this campaign is meant to address, at least with regard to Jewish Federations.

In some ways, then, this campaign seems to be exactly what is necessary for its time. From a historical perspective, it's an interesting development.

It's been over a hundred years since the federation of Jewish organizations into unified bodies was the gleam in some of our ancestors' eyes.

In 1909, Jacob H. Hollander published "The Unification of Jewish Communal Activities," in which he lauded the new movement of federation of local charities into unified bodies as a brilliant and necessary evolutionary step towards increasing efficiency of fundraising and service delivery and reducing labor redundancy (the piece also contains an interesting discussion about the status of Russian Jewish immigrants in American communities).

Joseph Jacobs' 1917 article, The Federation Movement in American Jewish Philanthropy is a good source for an early history of the federation movement. It recaps the earliest federation processes, starting in Boston, and reflects on federation's benefits for communities. Its focus is not only on efficiency, but also, and in contrast to the modern individualistic take, cooperation. It actually uses the word "impersonal" in its praise for the new system

…the whole plane of Jewish philanthropy, it is claimed, is raised by this more dignified method of collecting and distributing the means by which charity lives. Appeals can no longer be made on the ground of personal friendship, but are purely of a spiritual and philanthropic character…A more democratic spirit is also claimed to be evolved by federation. Each institution, however small its income, has its representative on the Central Board, and can feel that it is performing a useful function in the communal organism. When occasions arise on which a general appeal has to be made for charitable purposes, it would perhaps come with more force from a central body representing the consensus of philanthropic activity in the community, than if it emanated from the directors of a single institution. To all these claims is added the signal one, that the whole tone of charitable activity is raised to a higher atmosphere when personal interests and rivalries are eliminated in favor of a more impersonal and altruistic method of collection and disbursement.

The enterprise seems pervaded by a very bureaucratic spirit that seems both out of sync with today's zeitgeist, but also somewhat inspiring. For a more detailed look at the intricacies of bureaucracy involved in the organization of these ventures, there's this 1919 article, Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York City, which tells the story of how Manhattan and the Bronx Jewish agenices confederated (Brooklyn was way ahead of them). It includes the bylaws of the organization, funding and voting rights information ($10k of contributions got an agency one vote), a list of the New York machers involved (including Jacob H. Schiff), and more.

Times change, institutions change with them, and above all else, marketing must keep up. I hope that the #ish campaign will be successful at keeping the Federation system, which was brilliant from its very beginnings, lively and relevant for future generations. I also hope that the beauty of its original spirit of efficient communitarianism can also be remembered and sustained. But of course it makes sense that a BJPA #ish would include bringing historical data and wisdom to present and future Jewish undertakings.

Strong-Arming the Denominations

A new education grant that is forcing inter-denominational collaboration for teacher training on the MA level raises some interesting questions.

Tablet magazine reported on a recent Jim Joseph Foundation grant that requires the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform universities whose Education MA programs it supports to fund collaborative joint-teacher training endeavors. Meaning that for at least some portion of their education, future Orthodox-trained, Conservative-trained, and Reform-trained educators will themselves have studied and trained together.

The danger for the liberal Universities is that as their ideology seems to move closer and collaboration increases, the distinction between them and need for distinct organizational structures and identities weakens. For Yeshiva University, the threat seems to be more of brand dilution and credibility within the larger, more splintered orthodox world. According to Tablet's characterization, Richard Joel,head of Yeshiva University, "took pains to minimize its significance in an interview."

Economically difficult times do and always have lead to compromises (and hopefully innovation). The current wave of research, articles like,

The Unfolding Economic Crisis: Its Devastating Implications for American Jewry and Doing More With Less: Can Jewish and Other Nonprofits Turn Crisis Into Opportunity? (2009)

echoes over and over again: 

Jewish Communal Service and the New Economy , Managing Jewish Communal Agencies in Difficult Times: Cutting and Coping (1992),

A Jewish Communal Response to the Current Economic Crisis (1983).

The Foundation seems to be using its economic leverage to (attempt to) bring Jews, or at least Jewish educational institutions, closer together. Personally I think that's a good thing, but it is another example of the power of money to set the agenda for Jewish organizational life.  I do think it's ironic that after what seems like so much angst and ink spent on the impact of the 'new trend' of independent minyanim on the established denominations, apparently anti-establishment pressure can come from arguably the most established place of all - wealth.