This idea I want to share is hard to describe, and I didn’t understand it until I was already in it. I had never been part of what might be a trend or a movement. The earliest memory I have as an adult feeling this idea was on the beach in Jamaica with some of my closest friends during college. That night on the beach, Jon Leener and I shared a conversation where we envisioned a future where every Jew could connect in their own way to our shared tradition and how he and I felt compelled to find our place in the world to facilitate that.
Today he and I are part of the same group of people working towards the same goal, the early parts of that idea discussed then and on so many other evenings in other places around the world, but we are just two of perhaps thousands.
The next time this feeling swelled to the surface was only six months into my time as the Engagement Manager for YALA – Young Adult Leadership Action. I had the opportunity to staff the pilot program called 248CAN: Community Action Network (now in its second year) back in early 2018. This was the first time that I had seen someone try to quantify impact.
Lionel Mitelpunkt suggested that there could be a way to connect numerous groups and programs around the world – but more importantly the people responsible for them. This network of rabbis, educators, and other professional Jews, was loosely defined and its members didn’t pay dues to a central organization. The organizations in which they worked didn’t matter – it was their missions. It was about a bigger idea – a vision. It was a unifying message – allowed to be phrased differently by each community to correspond to their beliefs, needs, and resources. If you were in it, then people worked with you to figure out how to make things happen. It wasn’t exclusive, but it wasn’t apologetic. Common ground is sought – but not at the expense of being understood and respected.
The deeper I dove into this network – this wave, the more I realized that I had arrived late to the party. Earlier in life, I had felt that I had missed out on the development of Israel and being a chalutz in any of its manifestations. Just like my dream of being a cowboy, an Indiana Jones-esque archaeologist, or an early kibbutznik, I was too late to be part of the early work of building this network. But unlike before, there was still a lot of work to be done. It seemed everyone agreed that we needed to help empower other Jewish doers to take charge of their own Jewish lives – however that made sense for them. The “however” is still being created and figured out.
Over the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to sharing these lessons, insights, and anecdotes with the community that I have come to love like a homeland – on par for me as an individual as our national homeland of Israel. What I hope to share will be challenging for some, but hopefully will resonate with many. I hope to explore the path forward for public Judaism in the Twin Cities, and see it as a case study of sorts – an incubator to serve as an example for communities all over the U.S. and the world.