Federation partnership to ask big questions

Federation CEO Gil Preuss
File photo

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington wants to ask the big questions facing the Jewish community today. And to help find the answers, it’s turning to the New York-based Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.

The two organizations announced a partnership that will bring local Jewish leaders in industry, politics and philanthropy to the Federation in an attempt to find new ways to address the challenges to the Jewish community.

“At its core, this project is about bringing together leadership to talk about and develop strategies for the most pressing issues facing the Jewish community today,” said Federation CEO Gil Preuss.

The Federation is the central organization in the Greater Washington Jewish community. The Shalom Hartman Institute is a center of pluralistic Jewish thought and research.


According to Preuss, the initiative, which is planned to last two years, will look at questions such as: What do we mean by Jewish values? What is the role of Jewish life in American civic society? And what should the relationship be between American Jewry and Israel?

The idea, according to Preuss, is that the local leaders — around 200 in total — will come and work with Federation and Hartman scholars for several days each month.

The hope is that the cross-pollination of leaders will spread new ideas and create ties that last beyond the initiative’s lifespan.

“Tracking these questions in a thoughtful way with these scholars — and people coming from many angles — can only be done at the communal level, the area in which Federation operates,” Preuss said.

“We want to get people out of dominant ways of thinking and to push outward [for answers]. The goal at the end of the day is to strengthen Jewish life.”

Preuss said that the program will begin in the fall. Participants have not been chosen but the idea is that they will represent a wide cross-section of Jewish life here.

“The programming will bridge ideological, political, denominational and geographic gaps,” according to a press release about the program. The initiative will feature lectures, seminars and
forums “with the focus of establishing ongoing cohorts of leaders learning about and developing strategies to strengthen Jewish life and American civil society through a Jewish lens,” the press release read.

The partnership comes as the Federation is conducting a strategic planning process to rethink the place of the Federation — and Jewish federations broadly — in the 21st-century Jewish community.

Founded in 1971, the Jerusalem-based Hartman Institute serves as an educational and research resource for pluralistic Jewish clergy, scholars and educators through trainings, lectures and networking. Its North America branch seeks to strengthen the Jewish community here and its ties to Israel.

“The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington is well-positioned to take the lead in this communal approach to change,” Yehuda Kurtzer, the Hartman Institute’s president, said in the release. “As conveners, strategic leaders and facilitators of partnerships, the Jewish Federation and Shalom Hartman Institute of North America will leverage our shared expertise and relationships to create meaningful change in communal discourse.”

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