Jewish Federation Prepares for New Millenium

As the new millennium draws near, how is the Jewish Federation preparing for it? An initial answer to that question became apparent two weeks ago at a meeting I attended in our new West Los Angeles office.

Young Jewish adults, ranging in age from late 20s to early 40s, crowded into the Sawtelle Boulevard office. This is the generation we must actively engage in organized Jewish life if we are to be successful in strengthening a vibrant community in the 21st century. The stakes are high. Failure will mean that this potential pool of well-educated, successful Jewish leaders will look elsewhere for their volunteer involvement and commitment.

Among those in attendance were representatives of more than 14 young-adult groups, all under the Federation and United Jewish Fund banners — ACCESS, the UJA Young Leadership Cabinet, L.A. Couples, Valley Couples, the Bridge Club and the New Leaders project, to name just a few.

The diversity of Los Angeles’ Jewish community was well represented: There were singles, newlyweds and parents with young children; some lived on the Westside, others in the San Fernando Valley or the South Bay. Some entered communal activism to help raise funds; others become involved out of a sense of social justice; still others are committed to do Jewish things.

The young men and women in this community are, in so many ways, different from their parents, and certainly from their grandparents. They have grown to adulthood in a Jewish world where Israel has always been there and where the memory of the Holocaust is increasingly distant. They are products of the most affluent and well-educated Jewish generation our country has ever seen. They are beneficiaries of an American society where being Jewish is no longer a barrier to their entry into professions or occupations. They are Jewish because they want to be, not because they have to be. And those at the Sawtelle meeting were there because they care enough to be involved.

It became apparent during the meeting that, with all our efforts to reach young adults, we need better coordination. And that, in part, is why we called the meeting — to create a citywide young-leadership coordinating body in order to share best practices, and to move toward maximizing limited community resources.

The Federation has also responded to the need to better involve our community’s aspiring leaders. It recently rewrote its bylaws to include a clause that ensures representation of young adults on our board and, more importantly, on the executive committee — where most communal policy and practices are formulated. This means that the young leaders in our community can, and will, influence our communal agenda in the decades ahead. They need to help the more seasoned community leaders understand their issues to assure that we supply them sufficient resources to engage the ever-expanding groups of younger communal members in a meaningful fashion. They need to help us to develop the most effective means to reach their peers.

For instance: During last week’s meeting, one young man indicated that he had only recently become involved in the Jewish community. He explained how his needs had previously little or nothing to do with Jewish life. His stepfather had suggested he explore volunteer opportunities. This young man is now involved in the Federation’s effort to use the Internet to reach his Jewish contemporaries throughout Los Angeles and inform them about the range of exciting Jewish programs and activities that they can use in our community.

I strongly believe that we are on the right path in bringing together many of the best and brightest young adult leaders in our community, and challenging them to think creatively and be proactive. We will continue this approach to the extent that you, our supporters, think it is a priority and, through the United Jewish Fund, provide us with the resources to do so.

Lionel Bell is president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.