I see my work aligned closely with Rabbi Sid’s proposition about with community/kehilla. He writes: – “At a time when technology has made meaningful social intercourse much harder to come by, the Jewish community must offer places where people can find support in times of need, communal celebration in times of joy, and friendships to make life fulfilling.”
In the deep relationship-based engagement work that Jewfolk does, we connect Jews to one another, to Jewish community and to ideas and ways for Jews to express their own Jewish identity. We do this using the human-centered design mentality of first listening and then responding to what individuals tell us they need and want. We use new media tools like digital and social media and resource-intense 1:1 relationship-building because we have seen that it works. The long-term impact is far greater than comes from traditional happy hours or other social gatherings with little context, depth, or follow-up.
Where Jews may not always be interested in showing up IRL (in real life), we have created platforms for the Twin Cities Jewish community to connect virtually, in deep ways. We then use those virtual connections as a launchpad for IRL relationships and connections. These connections have nurtured members of the Twin Cities Jewish community through times of need, in times of celebration and joy, and most significantly, to build friendships. Two examples: Minnesota Mammalehs is a Facebook group of over 1700 local Jewish mothers and grandmothers who seek out and give advice, offer recommendations and support one another as parents of Jewish children. JLink is our growing professional networking group that meets both virtually and IRL and whose membership provides job opportunities, professional mentorship opportunities, and business or career development opportunities.
We have also invested heavily in technology as a tool to do this work. In addition to the original and engaging content (articles, podcasts, Facebook Live videos) we have on TCJewfolk.com and the corresponding social sites, we offer social media coaching/consulting to Jewish organizations. We started doing this as a pilot project funded by a grant from our local Federation and we are looking to continue serving our Jewish agencies with this important service. We see it as bridging the gap between the traditional institutions in our community to help them better reach the millennials and Gen Zers that they need to reach in order to survive.
Finally, we’ve been experimenting with some 1:1 engagement methods, including coffee dating, an engagement fellowship that ends with a capstone project initiated by each fellow. Recently, we added an incubator/accelerator of good Jewish ideas. We also run a matchmaking project to help meet the needs of single folks in our community. Occassionally we do “one-off” events with co-sponsors in our community to respond to specific conversations our platforms have facilitated or requests that we receive.
In summary, we are building community in new ways and addressing the need for Jews who may not necessarily enter the “big C” Jewish community but still have a desire for kehilla/community.
I think that our work provides a bridge between the ‘old’ ways and the ‘new’ ways – and hopefully between, what Rabbi Sid has termed, “tribal” and “covenantal” Jews. By acting as both media hub and engagement agent, we are uniquely positioned to straddle both worlds, to provide the more traditional community connections that tribal Jews want while still being edgy and independent enough to appeal to covenantal Jews. It oftentimes is a tough bridge on which to balance because if we lean too far to one direction, we risk losing folks on the other side. But I do think this part of our work is actually important in advancing Jewish life (maybe particularly in the resistant-to-change Midwest) because it both demonstrates what is possible while not completely giving short shrift to what has worked until now.
There is also a segment of our work that is purely political. In other words, we are often torn between our mission to inform, connect, engage, and inspire Jewish adults to connect to community and our duty to keep our community’s own institutions and synagogues accountable. This can be a significant energy-drag on our very limited capacity as a small organization. However, it is a necessary evil because as we are able to hold community institutions accountable to their stakeholders, our hope is that, in the long term, those institutions evolve and become more responsive to their own constituencies and more human-centered which would build a better Jewish community for all of us.
Though rejected from rabbinic school, Libby Parker has spent an inordinate amount of time working in the Jewish community, creating Jewish content, and basically cheerleading and recruiting for the Jewish people. She lives in the Minneapolis suburbs and directs Jewfolk, Inc. by day and her three children’s academic, social, and religious lives by night.