It’s the year 2020. Jewish life is thriving in the Puget Sound region. Jacob, Lisa, and their son and daughter are having Shabbat dinner with five other families at the neighborhood kehillah (community) three blocks from their home in northwest Seattle. They chat, laugh, and talk about their big plans for the coming week — taking their daughter to one of the PJ Library’s daily Song & Story gatherings in the north end, dropping off their son at a Jewish overnight summer camp made possible by a scholarship, and exploring the intriguing Jewish themes running through a sci-fi novel at their book club’s weekly meeting. Jacob is looking forward to starting his next class in conversational Ladino. And Lisa is counting the days until she leaves on a once-in-a-lifetime journey — a Mission to Jewish India, where a group from the Seattle area will visit an ancient Jewish community and together weave bonds of mishpacha stretching around the world.
That scenario from the future is one illustration of what success would look like for the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle’s new vision: creating Jewish Connections for Life.
For nearly 90 years, the Federation has served primarily as a fundraiser for the Jewish community. Annual campaigns were organized, money was donated, and the funds were used for the Jewish community’s needs — bringing food and care to disadvantaged families, supporting Jewish cultural and learning programs, and more.
Jewish institutions have grown and matured. Community needs have changed, and the Jewish Federation is changing with the community to create Jewish Connections for Life — building opportunities for people to engage — however they define themselves as Jewish.
Those opportunities will be doorways to Jewish experiences that are “meaningful, wherever you may be in your personal journey,” says the Federation’s president and CEO, Keith Dvorchik. “As people move through the different phases of their lives, we want to help keep them engaged.”
“How you connect is less important than that you connect,” Dvorchik says. The direction is the result of changing needs, as well as the region's rapid growth — the local Jewish community has grown 70 percent since 2001. Ideas about what it means to be Jewish have evolved, as documented by the 2014 Greater Seattle Jewish Community Study that Brandeis University conducted for the Federation.
Dvorchik says making engagement opportunities “easily accessible with low barriers” will be critical to ensure people can take part in programs without spending too much time in the area’s heavy traffic and without facing obstacles such as costs.
Going forward, the Federation’s Jewish Connections for Life investments will fall into two major categories: core work and high-impact investments.
Core work includes programs that provide essential support services for the community. As Dvorchik notes, “if we weren’t providing this service, something would really be missing in the community.”
Core work includes the Federation’s public policy advocacy in Olympia, Jewish engagement programs such as the PJ Library and PAVE
Seattle, people-to-people programs building connections with Israel and World Jewry, and Jewish legacy — working with Jewish organizations to build endowments ensuring a solid foundation for long-term support of community programs.
High-impact investments, which will begin in summer 2016, will direct significant resources over three to five years into targeted areas for creating and strengthening Jewish engagement.
Dvorchik says he hopes to see an “organic growth in Jewish life,” with “a lot more involvement across the board” and agencies “growing and flourishing.”
More broadly, the Puget Sound region would be a more vibrant center of Jewish life, enhancing its already strong appeal as a place to live, work, and raise a family. “My dream,” says Dvorchik, “is that people will move here because of our continually thriving and vibrant Jewish community.”
High Impact Investments
Jewish Neighborhood Connections Providing more accessible Jewish programs in areas that today are too far from most activities for residents to drive to them in a reasonable amount of time. The 2014 Community Study found, for instance, that 13 percent of the region’s Jewish households — one in seven — is in northwest Seattle, where there is little institutional infrastructure to support Jewish life.
Families with young children Providing programs that are practical and attractive for families with young children, so that they have opportunities to experience Jewish life in places and in environments suitable for young kids.
lifelong Learning Supporting learning opportunities for people of all ages, a clear need documented by the Community Study, which said “ample opportunities to engage in Jewish education” would be an effective means of creating and strengthening Jewish connections.
All high-impact investments will be based on empirical data, have measurable outcomes, and will be carried out with strategically selected partners, according to Federation president and CEO Keith Dvorchik.