In a world of rapidly changing demographics and ideology, one of traditions biggest challenges is to find a way to integrate itself into the habits of the next generation. For the past 90 years, the core operating principles of The Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, also known as The Associated, have remained virtually intact. Their ability to retrofit themselves to an emerging generation of modern Jews, while maintaining the fundamental principles of cohesion and partnership, is reflective of the thriving and diverse community they live in.
According to a 2010 survey conducted by The Associated, there are 42,500 Jewish households in the Greater Baltimore area. Of those who identify themselves as being Jewish, 27% classify themselves as Reform, 25% as Conservative and 21% as Orthodox. Remarkably, only 20% of Jewish married couples in Baltimore are intermarried, compared to the national average of 48%.
The Associated, established as a way to organize and respond to issues in Baltimores Jewish community, is a federalized institution dedicated to enhancing Jewish life in a collective way. Marc B. Terrill, President of The Associated, describes this central Jewish organization as promoting a system of coordination, activation and development, and management of human and financial resources, responsible for 14 local agencies and numerous overseas partners. A byproduct of this, Terrill describes, is that competition between our agencies is dampened, and Jewish organizations in the city can work in a collaborative way.
This collaboration can be seen throughout The Associateds 14 agencies, as Jewish centers and congregations boast signs stating We are Associated to indicate their connection to the citys umbrella organization. Mark Neumann, Chair Elect of the Board of Directors of The Associated, explains, The point of the signs is to remind the agency that they are part of a community. No one functions alone.
Terrill reflects on the power of the community as displayed in 2008, when the world was on the verge of an economic crisis. All the executives and presidents of our 14 agencies were asked into our offices, and we discussed how we could reposition our agencies to respond to this new reality. As a community we could make decisions on how to work collaboratively to respond to vocation needs, emergency cash assistance needs, and therapeutic needs – all based on the fact that we are part of a cohesive, collaborative system.
The economic crisis certainly took its toll on the Jewish community. The 2010 community study conducted by The Associated showed that one in three families was having trouble making ends meet, as opposed to one in five families in the study conducted a decade earlier. The Associated immediately went into action, aiding in cash assistance and job placement for those demographics that were hit the hardest.
The study also revealed that only 14% of local non-Orthodox young adults felt connected to the Jewish community, prompting a series of outreach programs for those living outside of the more concentrated Jewish areas. According to Chief Planning Officer Michael Hoffman, We cant wait for young adults to come into our JCCs or walk into our synagogues; we have to take the product of Jewish life and bring it to where they are.
Through non-institutionalized programs such as the Charm City Tribe, a project aimed towards Jews in their 20s and 30s looking for an unconventional community experience, young volunteers have created an outlet for secular Jews to feel traditionally connected to their roots. By approaching young adults on their own turf, rather than waiting for them to engage in a community they feel is remote or irrelevant to them, The Associated is assisting in establishing the future generation of community involvement.
Moishe House, an international organization that strives to provide a Jewish experience for people in their 20s, plays its part in the movement by hosting Happy Hours, Shabbat dinners, movie nights, and the ever-popular Vodka and Latkes, an event that Terrill cheerfully describes as the culprit of a city-wide traffic jam as young Jews scramble to engage in an activity relevant to their lifestyle.
Staunch supporter of Israel
Jewish opportunities in the area have even reached outside of the city with the Pearlstone Center, a retreat center and community farm that is one of the agencies of The Associated. The Kayam Farm at the Pearlstone Center embodies characteristics of the Israeli kibbutz system of sustainable living through experiential education, with programs focusing on Judaism, agriculture and ecology. The center allows groups to work the land in a traditionally Jewish way, attracting those searching for an alternative method to engage in Jewish philosophy.
Israel has been at the cornerstone of The Associateds mission since the inception of the State, and the Baltimore Jewish community has been a staunch supporter of Israel throughout its evolution. In fact, the ship Exodus 1947 was purchased in Baltimore and the city played a significant role in providing funding and security for the historic journey.
For the past ten years, Baltimore has been cultivating intimate relations with its partner city of Ashkelon, a relationship which Terrill describes as nothing short of transformative. Over 10,000 exchanges have taken place between members of the Baltimore and Ashkelon communities, including students, educators, social workers and laypeople. In addition, every year 20-30 teens from both cities engage in a leadership exchange and development program, where students from each city spend a number of weeks in home stays, cultivating one-on-one experiences and lifelong bonds.
Terrill recalls a heartwarming paradox brought upon by an unfortunate circumstance: If there is a crisis in Ashkelon, I am bombarded with telephone calls from people concerned for the wellbeing of their friends. In a horrible circumstance, it is incredible to see how deeply people care about the human connection.
Due in part to the wide range of Israel programs supported and organized by The Associated and its agencies, the 2010 Community Study revealed that 55% of Baltimores Jewish community has traveled to Israel. In turn, nearly 50% of the community feels very emotionally connected to the Jewish state, as opposed to 28% of U.S. Jews overall. According to Hoffman, travel to Israel is imperative in order to solidify a connection to the global Jewish community.
Next generation of leaders
For the past ten years of his presidency, Terrill has been working towards maintaining a current perspective in order to transition into the next generation of community leaders. Today, he describes the leadership as broad and inclusive. We have people who are young, veteran, Democrats, Republicans, secular, religious; individuals in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Through various different task forces and committees, The Associated has remained connected to every facet of the community and continues to prove its strength in partnership and diversity.
As this years host of the General Assembly of The Jewish Federations of North America, Michael Hoffman hopes to showcase Baltimore as a community that focuses on partnership and collaboration. Marc Terrill agrees, defending Federations from claims of decline. We have maintained a connection to our core principles. We continue to expand our donor base, our revenue and our levels of participation. I think we need to infuse vision and energy into Jewish life, and that is exactly what Im proud that Baltimore is doing.
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