Community, connection and post-Covid challenges top leaders’ agenda


What do Jewish communities of the future look like? How do we assess the diaspora relationship with Israel? How does education play a role in preparing our young people for the rest of their lives?

These were the questions at the forefront of a conversation between Dan Green, World ORT Director General and CEO, and Eric Fingerhut, President and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), in New York on Monday.

Their discussion on sustaining and revitalizing global Jewish life was Mr Green’s first engagement during a ten-day visit to the U.S. – his first overseas trip since becoming leader of the global education network during the pandemic.

Barbara Birch, President and CEO of ORT America, moderated the discussion at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue and asked the pair about the ways in which their organizations make a difference to Jewish life in Israel and diaspora communities.

Mr Fingerhut said: “Jews, wherever we live, organize ourselves for a purpose – because we have a responsibility to care for each other and to care for Jews around the world.

“So when we talk about building flourishing Jewish communities, in each of the 146 Federation communities and to support Jews around the world, we’re talking about building communities that are healthy, caring, safe, welcoming, inclusive, educated, that are involved in the broader community and that are deeply connected with Jews around the world, and of course in the State of Israel.

“We feel that connectedness every day – and that’s part of our mission, part of why we exist.”

The ORT network works to ensure that young Jews in locations as diverse as Bishkek and Bogota receive an enhanced Jewish education that might otherwise not be available to them, Mr Green said. He highlighted how in recent years Jewish community schools in Barcelona, Singapore and elsewhere had joined the network.

He said: “For many smaller communities, certainly those who are a little bit more isolated, they really want to reach out and be part of a much wider Jewish family – that’s definitely something we can offer.”

The complexities of the challenges facing ORT schools worldwide were clear – while economic concerns are high on the agenda in Latin America, in countries across the former Soviet Union including Russia, efforts are increasing to engage young people in their Judaism.

Mr Green explained: “Many parents send their children to our schools because of the STEM education. And we also introduce them to the start of a Jewish journey.

“The first hint of their Jewish roots for many of our students – and then for their parents and grandparents – is when they attend an ORT school. They grow and feel that love of Yiddishkeit. That reconnects them to their roots.

“As much as we are turning out fantastic students with amazing opportunities for their futures, I think that reconnection is equally if not more important.”

Mr Fingerhut added: “This generation wants to be connected. As more of our lives are lived on social media, the more deeply we crave personal relationships and the more you want to be part of something larger than yourself and have those deep connections. We have a marvellous opportunity with the partnership between the Jewish Federation system and ORT.”

You can watch the conversation in full here, with thanks to the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue