In cultivating the next generation of communal leaders, America’s Jewish
community must “think out of the box and say that the traditional ways are no
longer necessarily relevant for today,” an influential American Jewish leader
told an audience at the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem on
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein asserted during a panel on the future
of Jewish leadership that US Jews have failed to educate their youth in a way
that can ensure communal continuity and engagement, even causing “disaffection”
Discussing prominent Jews who are not involved in communal
life such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Hoenlein said, “We have to bring the
best minds. If Mark Zuckerberg is not involved, it’s our fault, not
“We have to find ways that will make it attractive to Mark
Zuckerberg and the Jewish community,” he added, citing the movement to free
Soviet Jewry as having “saved” his generation.
“Soviet Jews saved a
generation of American Jews,” he said, “because they gave us pride [and a] sense
“Unfortunately our successes” left no causes, he
continued. “We saved Syrian Jews and Ethiopian Jews and Russian Jews. There is
nobody left to save.”
Hoenlein said that he took exception with critics
who have called the younger generation “hedonistic,” and that young people
everywhere are “anxious” to be involved.
However, he said, “we are not
giving them the means [or] the vehicles” nor are communal leaders presenting
issues in a way with which the younger generation can relate.
“are not alienated, they are being disaffected” by the community, he said. “Its
what we fail to do.” Hoenlein also suggested that America’s Jewish population
“If I had one formula for people in the future, it’s less
meetings- more babies,” he said. “We need to have a greater Jewish population
and we have to educate them. We have to invest in young
Calling young American Jews “ignorant” about Israel, Hoenlein
said that the Jewish community has not “educated the generation.”
wait until they get to campus,” he lamented. “For the first 16 years or 18 years
they ignore them and then they say go on Birthright make them Jews.”
views regarding a perceived failure of organized American Jewry to educate the
younger generation also appeared to be shared by panelist Elie Kaunfer, a rabbi
and educator from New York.
Kaunfer noted that Jewish leaders do not seem
certain about what differentiates Jewish values and a Jewish outlook from that
of other religions.
The fact that the Presidential Conference was being
held in English spoke volumes about American Jewish life, he
“It’s a striking message that the lingua franca of this
conference is English and not Hebrew and its a commentary, frankly, on the
American Jewish community’s failure to educate around Hebrew.”
the fault of the people who can’t speak Hebrew, it’s the educational systems we
are putting them into,” he deplored.
According to Kaunfer, the Jewish
community is also addressing the issue of finding the successors to today’s
aging organizations chiefs in an unproductive way.
“The perspective of
the crisis is always framed that ‘how are we going to find the next generation
of leaders to lead these sort of legacy institutions?’” he said. “I think the
real question would be: ‘Which legacy institutions are inspiring some of the
mission- driven passion that you would want to find in the next generation of
A generational shift, Kaunfer, said, is “also an opportunity for
organizations that are not being led in a mission-driven way to step aside and
shut down.” He declined to name any specific institutions.