Steven Windmueller
Where Jews and Judaism Meet the Political Road!

Reshuffling the Chairs: Measuring Jewish Institutional Power & Influence

Every significant institution has declined in its ability to shape events and been replaced with… well nothing really. Power has become easier to get, but harder to use or keep.

Moises Naim, The End of Power

The Jewish community is experiencing a power transition! Driven by factors well beyond the boundaries of the Jewish communal system, this transformational moment is resulting in a change of the power equation and status of many of the core institutions of American Judaism.

The ingredients associated with measuring institutional power include financial capacity, membership reach, brand recognition, organizational credibility, and historic imprint. Among the “threats” to Jewish organizational standing involve the rise of new competitors, the decline in membership strength, the downgrading of financial resources, and the weakening of bandwidth. The realities of these structural changes are directly tied to some of the major generational and broader cultural shifts we are experiencing as a society. At this time, religious denominational bodies are encountering particular challenges in holding members and in maintaining their bandwidth.

There are however those institutions that we can identify as growth-based organizations, benefitting from a highly relevant agenda, a strong leadership base, and an aggressive fund development plan. Among them, the ADL, as a result of its high-profile agenda in fighting anti-Semitism and JNF (Jewish National Fund), in connection with its capacity to effectively pivot by focusing on environmental concerns and rebrand itself to reach new constituencies.

As demonstrated in the chart that appears below, we have experienced a fundamental reshaping of the Jewish communal order.  Considering the power quotient, where each of the factors described above come into play is contributing to the recalibration of the Jewish marketplace, we are observing power transitions occurring where legacy institutions  have given way to emergent or boutique organizations.

The Jewish organizational model is shifting due to generational choices, changing cultural and political priorities,  and shifting economic interests. This has resulted in a  structural revolution creating a whole new paradigm of Jewish institutional power.  Over the course of the 21st Century, we are likely to see the continuous transformation of the Jewish communal roadmap, as both the pace and scope of institutional change will further recalibrate the power standings of Jewish organizations, as new competitors enter the market. Among the unknown factors will be four key ingredients: the economy, the state of the Jewish political condition, generational behaviors, and cultural influences.   

Timelines: Transitions will be faster as we move forward driven in part by technology and social change 100 years 1885-1985 The First American Jewish Revolution 30 years in Formation 1985-2015
The Second American Jewish Revolution
Technology/Communications Centralized Information Social Media and the Emergence of Alternative & “Virtual” Community
Leadership Challenges Peer-Networked Elitism Indifference to Leaders The Rise of Self-Empowerment
Cultural Transitions Collective Vision: Holocaust/State of Israel/Jewish People as Defining Themes Individual Perspectives: Post-Modernism: Cultural/Spiritual/Personal
Social Structures Collective Engagement: Federation-Synagogue Model Personal/Sovereign – Self/Privatized Judaism
Market Transitions One Product Fits All Branding-Niche Marketing
Global Shift from PowerCentered to KnowledgeBased Communities Power-Centered Institutions (AJC-AIPAC) Knowledge/Skilled-Based/Specialized Organizations/Single-Issue Constituencies (MAZON-JWW-AJWS)
Inverse ShiftFrom NationalGlobal to a LocalGlobal Orientation Global Jewish Network System (Federations-Jewish Agency Connection) Rise of Emergent Local-Global Partnerships
Ideological Loyalties and Institutional Differences Social Divide: Class, Race, Culture Religion and Nation/ Strong Institutional Loyalties Ideological Differences Dissipate among Liberal Religious Groups/ Rise of Political Divisions: Loss of Communal Consensus and the Collapse of Civility


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.