What do we hope the American Jewish community will look like in 2025? No one knows what the coming years actually have in store for the Jewish community but we can at least attempt to outline a vision for what our future can entail with focused and vigorous efforts. Before we discuss the mechanics of accomplishing our collective dreams —hundreds of leaders, thinkers, and organizations would need to do that work in very different ways—perhaps we can at least advance open conversations of where we, as the empowered and engaged in the Jewish community, are looking to go.
1. Creating a Discourse Shift about the Jewish Future– The discussion about the Jewish future will shift from one focusing on headcounts to a discourse prioritizing the perpetuation of core Jewish values. Engaging more Jews (breadth) will not replace the priority of impact (depth). Further, the language of “meaning” and “relevance” is important for crafting a collective vision but will not replace the centrality of “responsibility, “service,” and “obligation” in cultivating leadership.
2. Increasing Torah Learning – More creativity, diversity, democratic values, and honest hermeneutics are applied to empower others to meaningfully experience Judaism’s primary concepts of G-d and Torah. More funding will be allocated to serious pluralistic adult education programs and self-directed learning opportunities empowering greater community wide scholarship and ownership. Jewish text and tradition will be embraced as more central in helping individuals and communities to navigate and balance competing values to make wise and meaningful life decisions through the cultivation of virtue and the acquisition of the tools to weigh the consequences of one’s actions upon others.
3. Tripling Innovation – Jews will continue to form new communities and will triple the size of the innovative sector; the Jewish community will also invest heavily in extant successful ventures (old and new) while giving space and resources for new pioneering ventures to establish themselves. All leading Jewish non-profits and religious institutions will display full public financial transparency while rebuilding the eroded communal financial infrastructure.
4. Embracing 10 percent Movements – Half of the Jewish community will be giving maaser (10 percent of each pay check to philanthropic causes) and spending 10 percent less on semakhot (celebratory events); 10 percent of Jewish institutions will have gone green and meat intake will be down 10 percent as the Jewish community becomes a global leader of the environmentally-sustainable consumption movement.
5. Doubling Service & Justice Work -The desire for a more just world will further motivate and unite the Jewish people, with doubled efforts in support of the vulnerable, both locally and globally. Half of the Jewish community will be involved in public service on global issues like poverty alleviation and disaster relief; and address the roots of local injustices. This will require full partnership from schools, shuls, campuses, camps, and foundations. The measures of social justice efficacy will be less narrowly focused on Jewish continuity but will instead more explicitly attend to the needs of the vulnerable. Jews will be off the top ten lists for slumlords and scandals. Jewish social justice organizations and advocates will be the leading voices in setting the Jewish communal agenda.
6. Further Identifying with Israel – 50 percent of American Jews will have traveled to Israel (up from the current 40 percent) and gap-year programming will embrace the values of service and leadership development for participants as primary goals. The community will assist Israel in creating a culture of tolerance and pluralism and achieve a level of peace that secures it from threat while maintaining its #1 priority of exemplifying justice. Steady numbers of aliyah to Israel will be maintained and will be supplemented by a contemporary “aliyah” geared toward a deepened holistic connection to Israel even when actual immigration does not occur. Infrastructure will be created to help empower and integrate Israelis into American Jewish life. American Jews will continue to ensure that the US government fully supports Israel in national security and defense while still advocating for other crucial domestic issues.
7. Increasing Observance and Identity– Wrestling with social, political, and moral processes in a Jewish language with Jewish values will be viewed on the same plane as traditional Jewish ritual. The trend in the Reform community will demonstrate a more full return to ritual observance, while Orthodox Jews will further appreciate and embrace the vital foundation of universal ethics in religious life. Post-denominational, trans-denominational, and “just a Jew” movements will empower more journeyers to embrace complex Jewish identities while continuing to support the denominational institutions that the community still needs. More interfaith couples will educate their children to be guided by Jewish values.
8. Expanding Jewish Identity – Jewish particularistic identity will be strengthened (day school enrollment and need-based scholarships to make them a viable option will increase) to reinvigorate Jewish contributions to the world, and bolster universal identity (Jewish votes are guided by multiple issues of broader public concern and Jews live and learn in more multicultural contexts), further intertwining discourses of particularism and universalism and avoiding an excessive tribalism. Intermarriage itself will decrease from about 50 percent to 45 percent as an affirmation of shared Jewish values.
9. Heightening Inclusivity – We will double the number of women holding senior community leadership positions and destroy the huge wage gap between men and women in Jewish communal organizations (currently a disparity on average of $28,000). We will double the number of those interested in conversion as the Jewish community becomes more inclusive and attractive to diverse individuals. Congregations and agencies will increase services to our elderly as we address the demographic reality of the “baby boomer bulge” when the Jewish community will be significantly older and the new generation of Jewish philanthropists will be giving less parochially.
10. Developing Values-Driven Leadership – Jewish leadership is guided more by an intellectual discourse of values as opposed to politics and absolutist postures, enabling those in communal leadership to serve more effectively as public models of Jewish ethics. A full embrace of the complex realities of globalization and post-modernity will strengthen our leaders’ resolve to be more spiritually present while more globally impactful.
As we approach 2011, I would encourage others to share their visions for the future of the American Jewish community.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Senior Jewish Educator at UCLA Hillel and a 5th year PhD candidate at Columbia University in Moral Psychology & Epistemology.