19 July 2019
Decentralization is a central theme of this century. Within the Jewish community, as well as on stages local, national, and global, we are seeing the breakdown of institutions and the proliferation of new initiatives and social networks that serve tailored and unique purposes.
On the whole, decentralization presents a positive opportunity for the Jewish community. Rather than be led by the few, we now have diverse voices weighing in on and shaping the direction of Jewish life.
There are, however, some dangers when it comes to decentralization. As we are seeing in American politics, the more we turn away from central sources of information and organization, the more likely we are to find ourselves in silos and echo chambers and the harder it becomes to organize people from outside our networks to join us in collective action. At times, it feels as if the most extreme or outlandish rallying cries are the ones most likely to mobilize others.
I believe that we must embrace the democratization of Jewish life while also building the platforms and mechanisms we need to help us come together. What’s more, I believe that at a time when decentralization is challenging our sense of nationhood by reinforcing our siloed identities, the Jewish community can be a model for how to celebrate our diverse offerings while also joining together to create positive change.
To do so, we need to ensure that our community has critical resources, strong relationships (among individuals and among organizations), talented leaders, and a shared commitment to each other and to building a strong Jewish future. Federation’s strategic plan is designed to contribute to each of these factors. As I have described, we have shifted our approach to fundraising and distribution to reflect the changing needs of our community. We have also been focused on expanding our partnerships to include additional organizations who share our commitment to Jewish life, and on convening leaders to get to know one another and swap ideas for collaboration.
As the pace of change accelerates, we recognize that new ideas will come from a variety of existing and surprising sources. Our ability to support a dynamic Jewish community relies on our ability to support the development of new ideas and the partnerships it will take to make them happen.
We believe, however, that our work to strengthen Jewish life in Greater Washington has to be about more than just the outcomes—we must help the work of strengthening Jewish life to be its own act of community building. In the face of many complex questions, we have made it a point to bring community members together for meaningful discussion and debate. We want to ensure that people feel empowered to share their perspectives and valued as an integral part of a larger whole.
Of course, Federation’s work to help create the context for community and the mechanisms for change has only just begun. We are in the first year of what is a multi-year strategic plan, and are moving forward with many open-ended questions. As we do, we are excited to work arm-in-arm with our partners and community members.
No doubt the forces of decentralization will continue to bring us new challenges and opportunities. In response, we are committed to leveraging the positives while ensuring that our community remains strong, connected, and united in the pursuit of a vibrant future for us all.