Spring Forward

Early Sunday morning will be, once again, the transition to Pacific Standard Time. It is when we roll our clocks back an hour and get an extra hour of sleep. (I just wish someone would explain that to my dog). This time of year always seems more enjoyable than “springing forward.”

But “springing forward” is what our Jewish community needs to do – not “falling back” on our past laurels!

I have written previously about the recent Pew Study. The report is not good or bad news. It points to a reality we can no longer ignore. It is up to us to see the opportunities hidden in this new reality. This includes greater inclusivity, more avenues for enhancing Jewish identity, and the necessity to break loose from old definitions of what it means to be Jewish. Answering the question of “why” be Jewish is just as important as “how” to be Jewish.

Jewish communal organizations are stuck in paradigms created many, many years ago. They rely too heavily on the loyalty of their constituents and donors. Federation is one of these. Yet, Jews do not think in terms of organizational loyalty anymore. Pew and other reports show that Jews (and the general public) are less inclined to give to organizations, and instead are more interested in causes. Moreover, they want to see the impact of their charitable dollars.

“Innovation” is the buzzword of today. The profound challenge for most Jewish organizations is answering the fundamental question – How do we get more revenue? But, should dollars be our primary focus? Have we relegated our mission, programs and services – our core mission(s) – to the back burner?

Our current business models are challenged. Most Jewish organizations struggle mightily to “make budget” at the end of each fiscal year. We are not alone. Just look at the corporate world. Major retailers – Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart – are rethinking their models in response to “show rooming” (browsing in-store and buying online) and purchases on Amazon. The whole education world is changing with technology, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and the Khan Academy. Even computer makers, record labels, banks and the post office are all seeking new business models for our changing world, yet are having a hard time finding their way.

Geoffrey Colvin recently wrote in Fortune, “Business-model innovation is a competency that does not exist in most companies and organizations. It never had to. For example, the newspaper business model worked for 200 years. Twenty generations of management did not to change it. Why should we expect that today’s generation would know how it is done?”

Many of our Jewish communal organizations have been around for decades. Federation is 93 years old and soon the Mittleman Jewish Community Center will celebrate its 100th anniversary, just to name a few. But in today’s environment, information technology, changing consumer tastes, open access, and data (in particular from the Pew Study about the Jewish community) should force us to make significant changes faster and more often.

One great example of an ever-evolving business model is Amazon. It started as an innovative online bookseller. Then it became a marketplace for other booksellers. It began to offer products (clothing, computers) requiring far different distribution infrastructures. They started selling digital books, music, TV shows, and movies online. Amazon created its own branded devices (Kindle and Kindle Fire), added web services, and is now investing hundreds of millions of dollars in original programming and warehouses for same day delivery of groceries and other merchandise. And all of this in only 18 short years of existence – with more innovation to come.

Amazon’s mission is “to be earth's most customer centric company; to build a single place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” Why not have a similar mission and create a similar model/structure for our Jewish community?

The Pew Study should inject a great sense of urgency within our community. An editorial in Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent said, “The question before us – how can our Jewish institutions and communal leaders use the research to refine and rethink programs, priorities, and allocations of funds? How can we inspire thinkers, innovators, and philanthropists to work collaboratively to develop new paradigms for Jewish engagement?”

While I was pleasantly surprised at the 94 percent of Jews in the Pew Study who say they are proud to be Jewish, we must recognize that pride alone will not sustain and nurture a strong future. We must invest more in formal and informal Jewish educational programs – from cradle to grave. And we must create inspiring and fun cultural and social programming that will increase Jewish connections.

Peter Drucker, a leading management guru once said, “Sloughing off yesterday is almost impossibly difficult, yet every organization must get used to doing it regularly. The largest obstacles will be weak imaginations, threatened interests, and culture.” This protective and territorial thinking must change. Communal business model innovation is the new essential competency. It is hard. It will define our success for generations to come. And, it is the only way our Jewish community can “spring forward” to re-envision everything we are doing. I can assure you the Jewish Federation is focused on this task.

Shabbat Shalom,


A few additional things:

  1. Mazel tov to Goldie and Rabbi Joshua Stampfer as they celebrate 60 years in Portland. This entire weekend will be filled with stories and celebration at Congregation Neveh Shalom. Our Jewish community is grateful for your inspiration and commitment to Jewish Portland and Jewish life.

  2. Every year the Jewish Federations of North America holds its annual gathering at what is called the General Assembly. This year, it will be held in Jerusalem. As a first-time initiative, you have the chance to ask Israeli President Shimon Peres questions via social media. His Facebook page has a special tab to submit questions. On November 11, President Peres will answer several of the questions live and live-streamed on the General Assembly website. Here is your chance to ask whatever you wish.

  3. Lewis & Clark was recognized as one of 20 campuses of excellence for Jewish life in this year’s Insider’s Guide to College Life published by the Union for Reform Judaism. Kudos to the leadership of Greater Portland Hillel and all their efforts on our local campuses.


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