Is the Federation System on Target?

As we approach the holiday season, and with Chanukah just two weeks away, many of us will be busy fighting the traffic at area shopping malls. The consumer in all of us will come out as we look for the best deals and latest greatest new products. I have long thought about the consumer driven, retail minded world in which we live. In fact, I believe that our Jewish communal system (Federation, agencies, synagogues, camps, etc.) is greatly impacted as people look for low cost, greater convenience, and more value in the services they desire. 

In 2007, then United Jewish Communities (now Jewish Federations of North America), the national umbrella organization for the Federation system had a national “call for papers.” They would be holding their first ever “Leadership Summit,” where some 400 senior Federation professionals would come together to openly discuss issues facing Jewish communities across North America. Now, I had not written a paper of any kind since graduate school, yet I had an idea.

My paper, “Is the Federation System on Target?” discussed what the Jewish Federation and our local agencies could learn from the retail sector and one of America's most recognizable and successful companies – Target. For many, being Jewish is a matter of choice and perhaps could be defined as a “retail experience.” We are people seeking the right synagogue, Jewish camp, Jewish education provider, counseling services, etc. for our own needs. To be successful as a Jewish community, we must offer the highest quality products, services at a reasonable price, and have our community members enjoy the experience. We live in a voluntary communal system where people can choose from a myriad of “retailers.” Therefore, the Federation system must provide the products that will motivate people to “shop” in our “stores.”

In most cases, there are limited services our Jewish agencies provide that cannot be received in the general community (social services, recreation, eldercare, cultural, etc.). Therefore, I struggle with the fact that it is possible in the future we may not be the primary provider of many of our current programs and services; instead our role may be to enhance Jewishly those received elsewhere via partnerships and collaborations. As people search for: value, meaning, ease of access, affordability, connections, and community, we have to move beyond our “we know best” mentality and listen to what our customers want in their Jewish life. What our customers want may be very different then what we currently offer!

Look, I am like you. I want to get what I need at the best price available. In fact, my wife and I are busily running around trying to shop for Chanukah gifts for our children. We all have our favorite brands and stores because of our past experiences and recommendations from our friends. At the same time, I believe in community! I believe in who we are as a people! I believe in the incredible institutions and organizations that Jewish Portland has to offer. Our challenge today is to make them relevant to a very large segment of our Jewish community who have currently decided to “shop elsewhere.”

I hope you will take the time to read my full paper. Although it was drafted some 3+ years ago, I do believe it provides a blueprint for our community going forward. What do you think about the Target difference?

Shabbat Shalom.


PS – Thank you to those who joined me for my first two “meet and greets.” I enjoyed meeting so many community members and appreciated the dialogue. My next one will be held on November 30 and more will be scheduled shortly for December and January around town.


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