Who The Folk?! Emma Dunn

Trying to get young adults to connect to the Jewish community is often a struggle for organizations. Emma Dunn is trying to bridge the gap that may exist in the Twin Cities. Emma is the Twin Cities Young Adult Engagement Manager for the Minneapolis and St. Paul Jewish Federations. We talk about her journey to Judaism, what engagement means to her, and some upcoming Young Adult Leadership Action programs that she’s starting, on this week’s Who The Folk?! Podcast.

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So you are the program manager for the young adult leadership action, or YALA as it’s more commonly known, a program of that is jointly held between the St. Paul and Minneapolis Jewish federations. Tell everyone a little bit about what the program is and what you do there.

YALA is the young adult engagement program of the federations. And it’s a hub for young Jewish life and leadership in the Twin Cities. We help young Jews Connect, travel, create and lead in any way. They’re seeking meaning and connection. And this includes a variety of programs and opportunities for younger Jews, including a few programs, I operate locally.

So you recently took the position after you finished your graduate studies at the U. What was it about the opportunity that was really appealing to you? I always sort of sensed you were maybe in a little more political public policy kind of track.

The deep relevance I feel in this position is the community engagement work I’m doing, which has always grounded my passion for policy and politics in a sense. But through my Master’s of Public Policy at the Humphrey School, I was focusing a lot on engagement work and representation, and how I could inspire and make sure everyone has a voice at the table. I was still involved in Jewish community work outside of my studies and already felt really compelled to be a volunteer. And I was volunteering on the Jewish identity and engagement committee of the Federation, which allocates funding to a number of agencies dealing with that those areas. I was inspired by the opportunity through YALA to make a dent and to make a really big impact to bring younger voices into the conversation.

So where I first met you was when you were a student and your involvement at Minnesota Hillel. What first led you to getting involved there?

Sometime during my freshman year my roommate brought me with her when she was leading services. I didn’t grow up Jewish, I wasn’t Jewish at the time, but I really felt a spark of connection not only in Friday night services and dinners and this idea of being surrounded by people who share common values and purpose, but also just inspired and compelled by the community that Hillel creates. I’ve been on a Jewish journey since then, really. And today, I really consider myself a student of Minnesota Hillel and consider Benjie Kaplan and the staff there to be very impactful mentors to me in terms of how relational engagement works and how you cultivate really deep, meaningful friendships and lasting relationships with people. And that for me, is my Judaism I live every day; how do I impact people and empower them to be their best selves and using our Jewish values and our, our unique community opportunities to help them do that.

One of the things you mentioned is about engaging and trying to find future leaders. I think this is sort of the $64,000 question for Federations everywhere. So how do you find them and bring people to the table that haven’t been, or maybe didn’t know they wanted to be?

We are incredibly fortunate to have a number of vibrant young adult organizations in the Twin Cities, new and old, or initiatives to reach out to newcomers to the cities to offer meaningful opportunities for younger adults who’ve grown up here and continue to live here or have returned after a few years. And so my work the reality is oftentimes supporting their work and then also doing my own role, Outreach at the grassroots level includes meeting people for coffee or helping connect them not only to institutions that they find meaningful but also to other individuals who might be able to help them professionally or personally.

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