Establishing a New Lens and Vocabulary for Jewish Identity

By Jonathan Woocher

Jewish Communal Service Association of North America (JCSA), Winter 2010

In his agenda-setting speech a decade ago, when he assumed the executive leadership of UJA-Federation, John Ruskay articulated what was then (and still remains) a bold and visionary strategy for strengthening Jewish identity: create communities that are tangible exemplars of vibrant, passionate, purposeful Jewish living, and individuals will be inspired to embrace it. Even today, the radical nature of this prescription is not fully appreciated. What Ruskay recognized (and much research confirms) is that individuals are shaped by their social environments and that experience is by far the most powerful teacher. Hence, if we expose more individuals to rich Jewish environments - in synagogues, JCCs, summer camps, Hillels, day schools, and Israel - where they can see and feel what it means to be part of a community of serious Jewish learning and living, they will gravitate to these communities in their own searches for meaning and connectedness. This philosophy has guided the enormous investment that UJA-Federation has made in these primary Jewish institutions over the past decade, as well as the thinking of a host of others who have embraced this strategy for strengthening Jewish identity. The two prongs of this strategy - (1) increasing access to and use of these institutions and (2) enhancing their quality, especially the vibrancy of the Jewishness these institutions embody - have been the pillars of UJA-Federation's work for a decade.

Topic: Jewish Federations, Jewish Identification, Allocations, Engagement, Meaning, Unity

Name of Publication: Journal of Jewish Communal Service

Editor: Naron Chalew, Gail

Volume/Issue: Vol.85/No.1

Page Number(s): 24-26

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Genre: Article

Coverage: New York, New York , United States

Language: English

Copyright Holder: Publisher

Copyright Information: Download for personal use, freely distribute link

Bibliographic Information:
Woocher, Jonathan. Establishing a New Lens and Vocabulary for Jewish Identity. Journal of Jewish Communal Service. Jewish Communal Service Association of North America (JCSA). Winter 2010: 24-26.


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