Community-supported agriculture grows on local Jews

Every Wednesday at noon, the Westside Jewish Community Center becomes a market where families pick up fresh, seasonal and certified organic fruits and vegetables grown by farmers who are part of a community-supported agriculture (CSA) project established by the Tierra Miguel Foundation. About 12 families participate in the program, which was launched last May and which does not require JCC membership.

“People love the produce,” JCC Executive Director Brian Greene said. “They feel good about buying vegetables straight from the farm and supporting organic farming.”

Inspired by a Jewish Journal editorial about ethical eating (“Moral Diet,” Jan. 5, 2007), Greene began looking into affiliating with a community-supported agriculture project giving families the opportunity to purchase a seasonal or annual share in an organic farm for a predetermined payment and, in return, receive a weekly box full of fruits and vegetables.

“This is a community-building activity,” Greene said, explaining that the project connects families with farmers, allowing both to share responsibility for stewardship of the land.

Additionally, Sinai Temple is starting the first Tuv Ha’Aretz community-supported agriculture project in Southern California. Tuv Ha’Aretz is the first Jewish CSA in North America and a program of Hazon, a New York-based community organization that sponsors physical challenges and engages in food-related work.

Families who sign up — who do not need to be Sinai Temple members — will commit to buying an entire season of fresh, organic produce from the McGrath Family Farms in Camarillo.

Besides receiving the food, the families are required to participate in a social action component by volunteering at least once during the year at the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition.

“We are creating a community of people who care about health and the sustainability of the world,” said Michelle Grant, Sinai Temple’s Green Committee co-chair.

A meeting for families interested in Sinai Temple’s Tuv Ha’Aretz project, slated to begin in the spring, will take place on Jan. 22. For more information or to R.S.V.P., call (310) 481-3243.

Those interested in becoming shareholders in the Westside JCC’s community- supported agriculture program can call (323) 938-2531.

Generation Next — a new vision for the Jewish future

This speech, by writer/editor/blogger Esther D. Kustanowitz, was delivered at the 2007 General Assembly convened in Nashville by United Jewish Communities as part of the “Next Generation” plenary. At the plenary, a range of young Jewish and Israeli activists, bloggers, an Oscar-winning filmmaker and others described their visions of community building and the power of the collective.

When I moved to New York in 1994, my community centered around my friends from Camp Ramah and the people I met in synagogue. We used e-mail, but mostly we relied on an ancient device known as “the telephone.” A few of us were experimenting with some new-fangled thing called “Instant Messaging.”

Today, you can forward an e-mail, a Web site or a YouTube video to hundreds of people, creating a network based on a shared experience or affiliation. The Jewish world has always operated that way — the community mobilizes to address an issue or to fill a need.

Today’s technology has altered the modes and frequency of connection, and today’s Jewish 20- and 30-somethings, perceiving gaping holes in the community’s agenda, are seeking each other out using the full power of technology. Web sites, blogs and social networking sites are thriving. It’s a grass-roots uprising.

There is a lot of concern over the development of this kind of vast online community network, largely because of the generational technology divide. But what’s clear is that Federation professionals, volunteers, donors, and publications that want to stay relevant to “Generation Tech” need to significantly increase their techno-literacy.

People also perceive the emergence of online life as a threat to in-person relationships and connections. But our online world does not replace our offline life. Expanding our personal and professional connections; cross-pollinating our projects with others, our initiatives emerge strengthened and energized, and new ideas keep us active and inspired, on- and offline.

Today, the “social” in social action, social entrepreneurship and social networking enables everything else. The power of the collective — not of one organization or charismatic leader — enables change. The collective transforms one idea into something more valuable.

Facebook, for example, had a simple concept: to create a Web site that replaced the traditional college “face book,” the directory of new students. The company, recognizing that the product could probably use a few tweaks, encouraged the users’ input. Call it a different kind of tikkun olam: Facebook users fixing the world of Facebook.

A friend recently remarked that Jews, particularly, are in love with Facebook-wondering who their friends know and which of their friends’ friends they’re already friends with. This is because this activity is a new, easy-to-read iteration of our favorite pastime: Jewish geography. (“You know David from camp? I went to college with David!”)

Jews, living in dispersed locations for thousands of years, have learned how to harness the power of the network as a survival instinct. You need a place for Shabbat? Or an in with David’s cousin Murray, the hotshot lawyer? Or maybe, you’ve got a nephew who’s just perfect for me or some other Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel or Leah? Jewish geography. The friend (or relative) of my friend (or relative) is my friend. Or a relative.

This is the power of the network. As Jews create communities online, large and small, political and social, community becomes more true to the word itself: call out the obvious “unity” at the end of the word, and you’re left with “comm,” which I like to think stands for “comm” communication and commitment. This enigmatic “new generation” is not any less committed than the previous one; we’re just communicating that commitment differently. And to be relevant to the new media generation, old-school organizations have to embrace new modes of communication and new models of commitment.

When I was asked to do this session, I was curious how many of us “new generation” types were on Facebook and attending the GA, so I formed an online group — “Going to the GA in Nashville and Under 45” — today, there are over 140 members.

My generation is not emotionally tied to the traditional structures that served as their parents’ main connection to Jewish community, because we don’t have to be. We are creating our own online and offline publications, initiatives and minyanim, in reaction to having examined what does exist and finding that it doesn’t fill our needs. For example, I’m on dozens of mailing lists and read about 50 blogs a day. I read lots offline too, but most of the programs and events I find out about through Facebook, blogs, e-newsletters, or e-mail. I can’t tell you the last time I attended an event that didn’t have a Facebook profile.

Online, I’ve become involved in opportunities I never would have known about otherwise. I am a team member for the Jewlicious Festivals, an celebration of all things Jewish attended by hundreds of college students each year. I’m involved in the ROI Global Summit for Jewish Innovators, an annual Jerusalem gathering of 120 Jewish leaders in my age cohort from around the world. And through my involvement in PresenTense Magazine, a content-laden magazine for Jewish 20- and 30-somethings, I’ve also been able to experience a broad swath of Jewish life in the here and now. I’ve also experienced new permutations of Zionism, through this summer’s PresenTense Institute for Creative Zionism.

Today’s Jews in my generation aren’t connecting to Federation the way our parents did. And I know this relationship, or lack thereof, troubles you. So view yourselves through our eyes. Are there campaigns, events or initiatives in your community that do draw participation from our age cohort?

Our generation lives generously, but gives differently: in measure, in method and in means. We need to feel the return on our investments — of both time and money — in our hearts and souls. And for those of us who are single or not parents, the community needs to expand the definition of commitment beyond Hebrew school tuition: just because some of us aren’t engaged to be married doesn’t mean we’re not engaged in pursuing a Jewish life.

Because our ideas, our commitment and our initiatives begin online and bleed into real life, Jewish organizations that seek new, younger members must commit to it not only in mission, but in action, supporting and forming partnerships with younger, innovative initiatives, not hoping to subsume them, but to work together with them.

By managing these kinds of creative partnerships effectively, and mobilizing our global Jewish social network, we will forge a future that is strong, vital, and a source of creative inspiration.

UJC realigns to remain central in challenging times

For generations, the North American Jewish federation system has stood as the central address of Jewish philanthropy — demonstrating from generation to generation the power of our collective to build our community.

The 155 federations of United Jewish Communities and 400 smaller networked communities boast an annual fundraising campaign nearing $900 million and endowment assets of more than $13 billion.

But that’s just the beginning. In every generation, our North American Jewish community has responded in times of crisis and need, contributing crucial funds for global Jewish needs. After Hurricane Katrina, UJC/Federation raised $28.5 million for victims in the Jewish and general community. In response to Israel’s war against Hezbollah, we raised more than $360 million in the Israel Emergency Campaign (IEC) — in each case without any overhead deducted.

All of these campaigns are aimed not only at challenges but opportunities. The IEC not only provided emergency relief, but is creating new economic development in Israel. We have also raised more than $70 million in Operation Promise, to bring the Falash Mura of Ethiopia to Israel and lift all Ethiopian Israelis into the mainstream through education, while feeding needy seniors in the former Soviet Union and building the Jewish identity of young FSU Jews.

Our collective isn’t only about writing checks; our donors remain full partners in our global agenda. More than 5,000 people attended our annual General Assembly in Los Angeles last year. And our funders are men and women alike — 16,000 women, called Lions of Judah, make a minimum $5,000 annual gift to the campaign.

Our collective voice is also felt in Washington. Our system won $50 million in homeland security earmarks, and $43 million to assist naturally occurring retirement communities — places where seniors have congregated on their own.

We face an aging, shrinking donor base. Donors who buoyed the federation system in decades past were animated by formative events such as the Holocaust, the founding of the State of Israel, the Six-Day War and the Soviet Jewry movement. As this generation ages and passes, it must be replaced by a generation of younger givers. But young Jews are not being shaped by the same existential issues as their parents and grandparents.

Further, older Jews have been more willing than their younger counterparts to unflinchingly trust large institutions with their philanthropic dollars. Younger donors often want to be engaged in a more a hands-on way than their parents have.

In addition, we live in an era of increased mobility. Whereas previously, Jews tended to plant roots in a community and stay there, today individuals and families tend to move around more or to own multiple homes, and they do not have the same long-term local communal ties as before.

We must increasingly engage this next generation of young Jews, who also bring new philanthropic priorities and creative approaches to giving and to community building.

UJC’s lay and professional leadership recently set out to look at our philanthropic landscape. In June, the UJC launched a strategic plan that tackles the major challenges and opportunities facing Jewish federations and our entire community.

First, UJC itself is being realigned, helping us deliver even greater value to federations and allowing us to better focus on our strategic goals. We have created groups devoted to Community Capacity and Consultation, Global Operations/Israel & amp; Overseas, and Jewish Peoplehood & amp; Identity. And we are intensifying our relations with our primary stakeholders — federation professionals and lay leaders, through in-person meetings and via new technologies.

One of our new strategic goals is growing our donor base. With the newly created Center for Jewish Philanthropy, we will take a new donor-centered approach, offering a menu of new philanthropic choices tailored to the varied interests of donors. We’re also developing a strategic fundraising model for federations. Until now, many federations operated in separate, parallel areas — development, marketing, planning.

UJC is now working with 17 pilot communities on a collaborative fund-raising model aimed at integrating and coordinating federations’ functions and operations on a more strategic level. And we’re helping federations with approaches like Federation Peer Yardstick, which helps federations better measure their strengths, weaknesses and results.

We’re also working to enhance Jewish identity and peoplehood, first by supporting proven initiatives such as Israel experience programs, including funding nearly $12 million for birthright Israel. But further, we’re intensifying communal involvement through new ideas such as a Jewish service corps, and working to make Jewish learning more affordable and accessible to everyone, especially younger Jews and families.

A year ago February, we brought 1200 Next Generation leaders to Israel as part of our TelAvivOne initiative and, in August, 400 attended our Young Leadership Cabinet, ready to dig in and take over. And in March, thousands of young professionals from Jewish communities around North America and Israel will converge on Washington as part of Washington 15: UJC’s National Young Leadership Conference.

UJC is also embarking on a major strategic branding initiative for the continental federation system, to outline how federations will need to position themselves as a consistent and compelling brand, and to deliver messages that resonate with a shifting, increasingly mobile population.

Finally, we are working to identify and nurture the big ideas that will inspire us, and re-energize our collective in order to build our community into the future.

That is, at heart, what the UJC/Federation does best: we create and build community. We spark the imagination of our collective, and we act as one people, with one destiny, using our central address to meet Jewish needs and re-imagine our Jewish future, from one generation to the next.

Courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Joseph Kanfer is chair of the board of trustees and Howard Rieger is president and CEO of United Jewish Communities.