The Jewish Future: Probable, Possible, Preferable – A Response to Dr. Steven Windmueller

Posted on: July 24th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

Dr. Steven Windmueller, a highly-respected scholar of Jewish communal life, published a paper this past Monday entitled, “The Unfolding Economic Crisis: Its Devastating Implications for American Jewry.” He writes, “The full impact of the current economic crisis may not be felt for years….The long-term outcome of the transformation is likely to be a far weaker, less cohesive American Jewish community… In turn, a communal system weakened by scandal and economic dislocation will inevitably be less powerful.”  For Windmueller, the future is dark.

But as sociologists like to say, we have to distinguish between the probable, the possible and the preferable.  Absent fundamental change, Windmueller is probably correct.  But the future he portrays is not inevitable. Our ability to create the kind of future we prefer is an issue of collective leadership and collaborative action.

Far before the economic crisis, 5 significant transitions, that spanned several decades, have occurred in American culture. We have transitioned from or are currently transitioning from the age of:

  • national community organizations to local organizations and interest groups;
  • institutions to networks;
  • oligarchies to democracy;
  • hoarding knowledge to generously sharing it; and
  • exclusivity to inclusivity.

These overlapping transitions have also impacted upon the American Jewish community and its historical and emerging organizations.

Without minimizing the irreparable economic pain of the moment, none of these transitions are related to the economic crisis nor are our responses to them dependent upon large sums of money. Rather, they’re about values, new thinking and capabilities. Because now, if we’re really serious, we can:

  • empower younger generations
  • create Jewish community on a global scale
  • increase Jewish learning
  • build stronger relationships with Israel
  • create stronger ties with people of other faiths
  • reach out to and engage Jews who are indifferent to Jewish living, and also to spiritual seekers.

Of course, anyone who loves the Jewish people and community would loudly proclaim “Yes we should!” But here’s the rub: we can now say, “Yes we can!” and that obligates us to get to work in new ways.

As Windmueller notes, we’re going to see continued downsizing of organizations. But that means we have to upsize our ideas and creativity. What we’ve lost economically, we can compensate for in large measure with ideas, technologies and vision. We can create the preferable future of a proud and flourishing Jewish community. If we let the current data drive us to darkness, the fault will be ours.

Please—respond with one creative idea you’ve seen or are thinking about that offers hope for the Jewish future. If I receive enough responses, I’ll be sure to post them.

Thanks, Rabbi Hayim Herring

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