Without a master plan, the American Jewish community has been radically decentralized. Thirty-five years ago, local federations owned the Jewish community. They were, as they loudly claimed to be, “the central address of the Jewish community.” The three-and-a-half denominations (sorry, Reconstructionist friends) were in rather placid waters, with the Reform movement growing, the Conservative just beginning its protracted journey into the wilderness and the Orthodox, many of us mistakenly believed, half asleep. To the extent that younger Jews wanted “in”, they wanted into the existing structures, which now and then grudgingly made room for them. Here and there, there were local innovations and initiatives but, by and large, Jews were not into new and self-organized modalities.
Today, the action has shifted quite dramatically. Everywhere one turns, there are bands and choirs, newspapers and magazines (in particular, the electronic kind), worship and study minyanim, Moishe Houses, Chabad Houses, new day schools, new vehicles for adult Jewish education and film festivals. There are more groupings of Jews who may not receive funding from their local federations but instead rely on either individual philanthropists, including young ones, or one of the growing number of consortia of such philanthropists in search of compelling innovations in Jewish life.
Leonard Fein, “Oh, The Things I Have Seen…” Moment (May/June 2010), 22.