I believe it was in elementary school or junior high when I first learned about evolution. There was no controversy surrounding it; it was introduced as a science lesson, and I accepted it as fact. However, it wasn’t until much later that I realized that it wasn’t only in the scientific world that evolution took place.
Today, I have a far better appreciation for how people, organizations, religions, society… (insert other groups here) evolve to meet their current situation.
So why am I writing about this now? That’s a great question and one I am happy to answer. Over the last several years, it has become evident how people connect to the Jewish world is far different than at any point in modern history. Belonging to a synagogue, being a member of a JCC or a group like Hadassah, B’nai Brith (or others) used to be the only way people felt connected, but this is no longer the case. Results from national studies like the Pew Research Center’s Jewish Americans in 2020 and the more recent 2021 Study of Jewish LA indicate a significant shift has occurred in the ways the majority of Jews choose to connect and engage Jewishly.
And thankfully, many Jewish organizations, including congregations in our community, are starting to take notice and look at new and innovative ways to become more engaging and relevant in what and how they are offering activities. I want to commend them and encourage others to look at what other organizations are doing and work to emulate it.
In the last paragraph, I used the word “relevant” on purpose because it is the essential factor in all that is being developed and offered to and for the community. Right now, the greatest commodity we have is time. While it used to be money, time has surpassed it. We are living in a consumeristic society with the most competition for people’s time than ever before. For the Jewish world to compete, we must continue to stay relevant in what we provide.
What do I mean by relevancy? I mean that what we provide needs to be seen as worthwhile by the consumer (i.e., community members) and of value to them. The challenge is that each consumer is looking to get something different out of an experience. So, to capture their attention, the messaging/imaging/marketing needs to hit many different levels and speak multiple languages. If not, consumers will pass it by, since it does not seem relevant to what they are looking for.
Trust me when I say that this is not easy to do. However, not only is it essential for Jewish organizations to try and work at it, but it is also extremely healthy to evolve in ways we have never seen before.
Want an example? Let’s briefly look at PJ Library. This national program was developed as a way to increase Jewish literacy and ultimately make families feel a part of the Jewish community. Recognizing that some families don’t feel they know enough about Judaism to attend or be a part of Jewish activities, PJ Library educates—both the parents and the child—through free children’s books mailed to their homes. And one of the unique aspects of the program is that families can engage in Jewish activities with no guilt or expectation, on their own time frame and their own terms.
Evolution is a necessity for survival, and I can assure you that, thankfully, Jewish leaders and organizations understand this and are doing what they can to figure out ways to evolve and adapt to today’s society. You can be a part of this by sharing your ideas with us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will pass them along to our community partners.
Jason Moss is executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater
San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys.