Federations Hiring Own YALA Directors, Pledge Continued Collaboration

The five-year experiment of the two Twin Cities Jewish Federations having one staff member running bi-cities young adult programming is over, but that doesn’t mean the partnership is ending.

The Minneapolis Jewish Federation and St. Paul Federation announced in a joint statement that rather than filling the vacant Young Adult Leadership Action (YALA) director position with one director, each city is going to hire its own director. Previously, Minneapolis paid for 70 percent of the position’s funding, while St. Paul funded the rest. Each federation received staff time along the same split, 70/30.

“We’ve had three YALA directors over a short period of time and there’s a recognition that it’s a lot for one person to try and do all that YALA is doing in both communities,” said Ted Flaum, CEO of the St. Paul Jewish Federation. “We probably need more (full-time staff) to address the needs of young adults and this is a way to do it under YALA. I don’t think there’s going to be a huge difference in how we approach it.”

Said Minneapolis Jewish Federation CEO Jim Cohen: “We have too much work to have 70 percent of a person. We need a full-time person.”

YALA was created five years ago as a venture by both Federations as a “community hub that supports the growth of young Jewish adults and organizations in the Twin Cities in the areas of leadership, volunteerism, philanthropy, and community connection.” Gabe Herstig left the position last week after 14 months. Charley Smith was the first director, and he was followed by Emma Dunn.

Flaum said that people have already expressed interest in the St. Paul YALA position.

“I want to hire slow and right rather than quick and wrong,” he said. “Overall, for the Twin Cities, it’s a plus that we’ll have more dedicated staff working with young adults.”

Cohen said that the number of young adults who engaged with the Federation during last month’s Experience Israel mega mission was a driving factor: one-third of the 237 travelers were under 45 years old.

“Many want to become more engaged and we don’t want them to have to wait in a queue to do so,” he said. “When Gabe decided that it was time for him to move on, we thought it was the right time to relook at this. I don’t see it as a negative; I see it as us committing ourselves to make sure we engage the people we want to engage.”

Both Flaum and Cohen said that each city having a director is a step forward in the work that can be done to engage the young adult community, not back. Flaum compared it to the work done in preparation for the Cardozo Society dinner in June, where each city has a staff member working on the planning of the event.

“I’d say it’s a positive to have more staff focusing on the issue and a group that both Federations feel is important and that we’ve invested in,” said Flaum. “I think the collaboration, coordination, and cooperation is still going to be there, mainly because the young people demand we do this. If anything, this can strengthen us.”

Cohen said the Federations aren’t turning their backs on any of the collaborative, cross-community activity that’s been happening, including the partnership with JDC Entwine and the upcoming trip to Greece.

“The two people are going to work together on all of the joint programming that currently exists, and if they create any more, that’s great,” Cohen said. “We are moving forward with everything that we were doing. We’re not dropping a single program, and we’re certainly not dropping a single bi-cities program. On the contrary, this is to make sure that we don’t have to drop anything.”