Steven Windmueller
Where Jews and Judaism Meet the Political Road!

Building Blocks for the Jewish Future

What are the questions that the Jewish people will need to be asking and what are the operational realities that our institutions must address? Introduced below are ten of these critical concerns for our consideration:

  1. Jews today ask different questions of themselves and of their community. Our grandparents would ask: Is it good for the Jews? and some of us might inquire: Is it good for our society? but many who operate out of a “sovereign self” frame of reference will offer: Is it good for me?
  2. Our communal culture has become identified with a particular structural framework that remains ideologically and institutionally static. What are the ingredients necessary for organizations to flourish in this complex and changing environment?”
  3. The community faces a set of internal challenges, involving such issues as intermarriage, assimilation, the cost of Jewish living, and the changing nature of the Jewish family. The mantra for this moment must be about testing ideas, at times failing and yet exploring again, until ultimately learning what we need to understand. “Are we prepared to respond to these demographic and social issues by introducing new and innovative ways to reach and serve the Jewish people?
  4. Realizing that all peoples carry multiple identities, how do we make the Jewish component compelling and engaging? In light of the fact that many Jews describe themselves as religious seekers: “How as a community can we help embrace seekers to discover their Jewish story?”
  5. This is about journeys as each person has his/her own “midrash”, we may not be able to share each person’s “storyline” (beliefs and practices). This is about accessing one Jew at a time, as we are encountering a generation of Jews many of whom are on personal journeys where they are constructing individualized connections to community and their religious identity. For some Millenials, Judaism represents a negotiable item, devoid of a specific connection to peoplehood or denomination. For many, the act of confirming upon a person their Jewish status is no longer defined by an outside authority but rather must be seen as a self-defining act, i.e. the idea of personal choice has replaced the notion of covenantal obligation. “Are we still a people? What binds us together as a community in light of this shift from the collective to the personal?”
  6. In this market environment, the Jewish community increasingly emulates the corporate culture. The competitive advantage dominates the current mindset. “How do we brand our presence in this business-oriented market setting? and “How can move from this corporate state mindset to a collaborative enterprise?”
  7. Despite the fact that we are a global people, Jewish leadership operates frequently as if we are only a parochial culture. “What do we see as our role and message as part of the global Jewish conversation?
  8. As Israel’s rebirth approaches its seventh decade, “what ought to be the ideological and operational construct that describes the American Jewish connection to the Jewish State, and how do we sustain the majesty and centrality of this nation-building story for the Jewish people?”  “Are we able today to find common ground in buidling a transnational Jewish message?”
  9. As key stakeholders within the larger society, the Jewish community has critical interests associated with our role in the wider American civic culture, “What are our political priorities, and how ought we to go about organizing our presence within the public square?”
  10. The institutions of the community must be seen as the means by which a people achieves its goals and fulfill their promise. “Are we able to construct models of institutional governance and management that reflect the values of our tradition and the expectations of our times, including transparency and accountability? In connection with the challenges before us, “how might we recruit and prepare a new generation of Jewish leaders?”

Five Core Concepts:

The institutional resources of our community must be in alignment with the following concepts if the Jewish enterprise is to compete and succeed:

  1. Community: Re-envisioning the idea and reality that every Jew is sacred and that each community is distinctive and holy.
  2. Continuity: Drawing on our past, how do we preserve, yet build for the Jewish future?
  3. Connection: Focusing on the value and possibilities of technology while embracing new modes of communication in reaching our community.
  4. Collaboration: Preserving and creating networks of relationships among those within the community and beyond as we build different and creative forms of institutional connections.
  5. Creativity: Imagining and building the future by employing our shared institutional resources and collective talents.

In order to implement these five principles and to begin to respond to the core questions presented at the outset of this essay, these operational strategies would seem to be essential:

Defining an Organizational Niche: Namely, can we afford to be a “Walmart,” meeting the diverse interests of an array of different audiences, or might we be seen as specializing in providing specific needs and serving a particular type of audience? We note that many of the emerging institutional models today are single-issue constituencies with a defined core message and mandate.

Moving toward Consolidation and Collaboration: Based on what we are learning about organizational practice, the new-normal requires leaders to ask with whom and how can we build a working partnership? In this new culture, organizational collaboration trumps competition and acts of consolidation override the expansion of services.

Building Brand Recognition and Establishing Market Share: the focus on creating a definitive statement and institutional plan of action that is designed to appeal to our target audience(s).

Introducing a Culture of Experimentation and Research: Institutions that will succeed in this new uncertain market must be committed to investing in new ideas and alternative institutional delivery models.


In the context of the 21st century many of the traditional suppositions and norms of organizational behavior have been uprooted. New questions replace the standard inquiries associated with institutional performance of the past. The “ten plus five” scenario offers some insights into the core themes that as a community we will need to address.

About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.
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