Steven Windmueller
Where Jews and Judaism Meet the Political Road!

Charting the Jewish Communal World: Ten Reflections

The material introduced here is part of a larger research initiative being conducted for a major Jewish funder. It is designed to summarize the core trends that will most likely dominate the Jewish echo-system moving forward:

  • The focus now is on experimentation We are living in a bottom-up Jewish market environment, as all significant change will occur at the local level, one institution at a time. Here, the events on the ground will inform and define the future of our national and/or umbrella systems.
  • The downsizing of our community will continue, driven in part by economic factors and changing generational patterns. There will be fewer institutions that constitute Jewish life. The actual size and economic strength of many structures will likewise decline. We are likely to encounter additional mergers as this process unfolds.
  • In connection with the health and welfare of institutions, a critical outcome here is associated with the vestiges of communal resources (property-records-sacred objects, etc), and how these assets will continue to enhance and serve the needs of the community? There needs to be a systemized response and plan to managing the downsizing issues facing the Jewish community.
  • As we shift from a 19th Century institutional structure with a 20th Century agenda, our 21st Century structures will be operating in a far less coherent, systematized framework.  As chaos theory takes hold, there will be increasingly new and varied models of community expression. Traditional forms of organizing around umbrella systems and denominational alignments, will give way to new, less formal arrangements of connection. Such “national” expressions will increasingly be reflective of local considerations and choices; few issues will galvinize the community to act with any degree of consensus and collective action.
  • External threats (anti-Semitism and anti-Israel behaviors) are likely to be increasingly challenging to our community, placing our institutions and each of us in more potentially dangerous situations. Security considerations will force our decision makers to appropriate more resources in connection with these outside challenges.
  • Rather than being reflective of a coherent community, our Jewish institutions will increasingly operate in pods, aligning with groups that share similar religious and political interests and who are likewise comfortable in forming collaborative arrangements of engagement and action. We will see both the expansion of inter-religious models of partnership as well as cross-denominational alignments internal to the Jewish communal landscape.
  • An interesting countervailing response is happening as we observe within the Jewish eco-system the continued expansion and development of new Jewish cultural, religious and political expressions. While most of these emergent groups will be small, often on-line expressions, they represent the residual creative and entrepreneurial strength of the community. Change represents a constant!
  • As we see the Jewish community undergo significant demographic and social changes, we are likely to see the “bleeding into” the institutional cultures of our synagogues, schools, camps, etc, a growing body of ideas and practices taken from other cultural and faith traditions. As we note, people not only bring themselves to a community but often transport their beliefs and behaviors. Just as we monitor these cross-cultural trends throughout much of the community, we will see a counter-response from American Jewish Orthodoxy.
  • Ultimately, the American Jewish experience of the 21st Century will reflect within its structures, practices, and policies a much greater diversity of expression and performance. These outcomes raise a more basic question, will we be a community or multiple communities, each claiming to reflect and represent Jews and Judaism? These considerations about the nature of community are of particular importance in connection with the political fallout around Israel and American democracy.
  • The scope and depth of these dynamic institutional disruptions will require a cadre of Jewish professional and lay leaders well versed in managing transformational change, understanding how best to manage through chaos, while having the capacity to re-envision institutions, inspire and engage boards and stakeholders.
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.