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The New Jewish Leaders

Reshaping the American Jewish Landscape

Jack Wertheimer

Publication Year: 2011

A riveting study of a generational transition with major implications for American Jewish life By the end of the twentieth century, a new generation of leaders had begun to assume positions of influence within established organizations. They quickly launched a slew of new initiatives directed at their age peers. Born during the last quarter of the twentieth century, these leaders came of age in a very different America and a different Jewish world than earlier generations. Not surprisingly, their worldview and understanding of Jewish issues set them apart from their elders, as does their approach to organizing. Based upon extensive interviews and survey research, as well as an examination of the websites frequented by younger Jews and personal observation of their programs, The New Jewish Leaders presents a pioneering account of the renewal of American Jewish community. This book describes how younger Jews organize, relate to collective Jewish efforts, and think about current Jewish issues. It also offers a glimpse of how they re-envision American Jewish communal arrangements. What emerges is a fascinating exploration of Jewish community in America today—and tomorrow.

Published by: Brandeis University Press


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pp. i-ii

Series Page, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vi-vii

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pp. viii-xv

By the closing years of the twentieth century, new patterns of affiliation were palpably transforming organized Jewish activity in the United States. National organizations that had been dominant since the middle decades of the twentieth century saw their membership rolls shrink due to the passing of an older generation and a failure to attract enough young Jews to replace them. More generally, institutions of national prominence could no longer rally...


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pp. xvi-xvii

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1 Mapping the Scene

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pp. 1-44

Fifty years ago, observers of American Jewish life were struck by the frenetic engagement of Jews in organizational activity. “What distinguishes the Jew from the non-Jew,” wrote Harold Weisberg, dean of the graduate school of Brandeis University, in 1964, “is, increasingly, not a specific ethic, religious discipline, or language, but the intensity and pervasiveness of his organizational commitments and activities. . . . At present...

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2 From Jewish People to Jewish Purpose

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pp. 45-83

Since 1990 or before, the landscape of organized life has been creaking and shifting. Since well before the economic downturn of 2008–2010, signs have been accumulating, generally pointing in the same direction and toward the same conclusion: The fabled “establishment Jewish communal system”—the vast continental network of long-established Jewish communal agencies and institutions—is in decline....

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3 Expressive, Progressive, and Protective

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pp. 84-111

As illustrated in the previous chapter (and others in this volume), the people linked to Jewish groups we have labeled “establishment” and “nonestablishment” differ in significant and sizable ways. Without denying all the possibilities for overlap, and all the fuzziness in the imputed boundaries between the two categories, we can discern rather striking tendencies dividing establishment and nonestablishment group members....

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4 Young Jewish Leaders in Los Angeles

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pp. 112-158

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in 2009, I took the 405 Freeway to the Skirball museum and followed the signs for “PJA 10 Live: Advocacy for a New Era,” the Progressive Jewish Alliance annual dinner. As I parked my Prius in the lot, I noticed several other Priuses, some with Obama or Jewish social justice bumper stickers. I went up the stairs to the cocktail area and found a crowd that was diverse in age but that included many...

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5 Reimagining Jewishness

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pp. 159-213

This chapter discusses the Jewish attitudes, ideas, norms, and values that animate the enterprises of young leaders and cultural figures. Innovative Jewish institutions created by entrepreneurial American Jews in their twenties and thirties have proliferated in recent years. Simultaneously, the cultural realm has seen a veritable explosion of literature, music, film, art, and electronic media drawing on Judaic cultural...

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6 The Reality of the Virtual

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pp. 214-260

In September 2009, MASA, a partnership between the Jewish Agency and American communal organizations that provides a “gateway to long term Israel programs,” launched a public relations campaign on Israeli television and the Internet. A central feature of the $800,000 effort was a commercial, shot with a vague MTV aesthetic, that featured mockedup missing persons posters of American Jews. The advertisement’s female...

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7 In Its Own Image

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pp. 261-321

In March 2009, the graphic artist Eli Valley published a comic in the Forward entitled “Social Entrepreneurs Lost in Space.” The piece satirizes the Jewish communal discourse about young leadership that is embodied in the present volume. In the comic, an asteroid is about to smash into Earth, and NASA decides to save a remnant of the human race by sending a select group of individuals to colonize another planet. Deciding that...

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pp. 322-330

The chapters in this volume have introduced readers to a broad range of leaders and programs for the population of Jews between ages twenty-two and forty. Through the accumulation of rich and revealing quotations, we hear firsthand from these leaders how they think about Jewish questions and relate to Jewish collective enterprises. Quantitative data further flesh out the picture by granting readers access to the responses...


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pp. 331-332


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pp. 333-334


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pp. 335-352

E-ISBN-13: 9781611681840
E-ISBN-10: 1611681847
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611681833
Print-ISBN-10: 1611681839

Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 27 figs. 45 tables.
Publication Year: 2011