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2016-09-23 digital edition

TODAY in the Jewish World:

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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


September 23, 2016  RSS feed

Text: T T T

This is my last column

Emilie Socash
Executive Director, Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties

As we say goodbye to 5776 and welcome 5777, I realized that this is my last column of my first full year in the role of executive director of our Federation. During this year, I’ve written a sum total of 20,900 words for this column (including this edition), I’ve had cups of coffee and lunches and emails and texts and chats with at least a thousand of you. This year has given me plenty to think about for the years to come.

But first, let’s think about the mountain bike. The mountain bike holds 65 percent market share in North America, representing $58 billion in sales annually. How many do you have in your home?

The mountain bike wasn’t, however, the brainchild of an R&D team at Trek or Specialized. It wasn’t dreamt up by a team of paid bicycle engineers. It didn’t hatch in some mad genius’s garage. Rather, the mountain bike was born in Northern California out of the frustration and commitment of young cyclists who wanted the gears of a racing bike, the frame of their fathers’ cruising bikes, and the stopping power of motorcycles. They created what can only be described as frankenbikes, responding to their own wants and needs, crafting bikes that were a perfect fit for the use they saw. Soon, a small company began creating these bikes, and it was over a decade before a “real” bike company took note.

I’m guessing that there are pieces of our Jewish community that you’d like to adopt, adapt, hybridize, and construct. I have my punch list too. Just like those young adventurers, we’re in this together and we all can play a role in creating the community we want to see.

I recently watched the TED talk, “The Era of Open Innovation,” by Charles Leadbetter. In a nutshell, Leadbetter proposes that it’s difficult to find the big new ideas in big organizations. He asks, “How do we organize ourselves without organizations?” and then proposes “That’s now possible; you don’t need an organization to be organized, to achieve large and complex tasks.” As you can imagine, organizing and revolutionizing our Jewish community could be considered a large and complex task.

Last week a firestorm conversation unfolded on the Jewish Moms of Tampa Bay Facebook group in which women from both sides of the Bay considered the community that we have and the community that we want. Oddly enough, it was several Federation insiders (both lay and professional) who echoed this idea: you don’t need an organization to be organized. Just jump in, and don’t wait for someone (or some entity) to make the change you’re hoping for.

The gap in innovation that these mothers identified, though, is one that the Federation can fill. In fact, looking ahead to 5777, you’ll hear a few consistent messages as our vision for the year unfolds. We’re stretching our Federation to the limits of what a Federation can be…and then stretching a bit further. We’re focused on creating Jewish identity-building opportunities for the entire community. All of our work is, and must be, done in close collaboration with our synagogues and our agencies, across all bounds of affiliation. And finally, we’re the experts in building Jewish Community.

In a recent conversation with Jennifer Webb, candidate for House Representative for District 69 (my district, and this mention is not an endorsement of her), she noted that she often finds herself thinking about the difference between politics and Politics. I shared with her that in my line of work, the same thinking goes into Jewish community and Jewish Community. Our one-on-one interactions, our organized activities that don’t rely on an organization, our on-the-ground methods and practices are community building. But the weighty task of creating a Jewish Community (with a capital “C”) feels like it needs care, consideration, great expertise. Together with you, the Federation can endeavor to do just that.

Building Community at this moment has us asking a lot of questions. In our recent demographic study planning meetings, one committee member asked why we would even want to know if a Jewish household has a Christmas tree. Another committee member suggested that if we know that only 4 percent of our community truly keeps kosher, why do we spend so much time worrying about our kashrut policies. I asked that we dig deeper with families who indicate that they have a child younger than bar/bat mitzvah age who was at one time enrolled in religious school but no longer attends. Why the change?

At our latest board of rabbis meeting, our spiritual leaders considered a question from a community member about what types of community-wide education does our community want, and in our Lamad (Learning, Making, Doing) Community Think Tank happening this week we’re asking even bigger questions about what directions our community should take in education and engagement for all ages. I recently sat down with synagogue presidents to ask how we might be able to help them save money.

We have more questions than answers at the moment, and that feels like a good place to be. Our community is ready for radical innovation, and as Leadbetter points out, “the payoffs to innovation are greatest where uncertainty is highest.” (Quick case in point: landline phones were originally envisioned to be used to call into live theatre performances. SMS was created without a use; teens invented the use following its introduction.)

Throughout the year, you’ll see many opportunities to contribute to the dialogue through think tanks, informal conversations, and yes, even organized activity. To build the Community that we want, we don’t need to establish another organization, we just need to get organized.

Join us.

L’shana tovah!

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