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2014–16 Environmental Assessment

The Place Where We Begin: Our Assessment of the Current Environment

The Reconstructionist movement is restructuring itself in the midst of intense changes, even revolutions, occurring in several of the universes within which we situate ourselves. Some of the sites of change that most potently affect us include:

On the broadest levels of society:
o The impact of rapidly changing technology, most especially the fostering of social networks, which promote collaboration in ways both generative and destabilizing; and
o The changing nature of affiliation and conceptions of membership.

In the North American Jewish community:
o Shrinking demographics;
o Restructuring of national and local organizations that emerged following the Second World War, including the presumption that synagogue are the center of Jewish life;
o The emergence of entrepreneurial, highly collaborative start-ups offering new visions but no clear plans for sustainability;
o A waning commitment to the mandate of Jewish communal support; and
o Ongoing debates about “who is a Jew” and what is legitimately “Jewish,” that is, disagreement about the boundaries of Jewish life and how to nurture and police them.

We plan out of the following assumptions and premises:
Each development holds both challenges and opportunities for a national organization. We are examining every element of our functioning and questioning every assumption we hold in an effort to create an organization that is relevant, useful, responsive and sustainable.

The Jewish community, on both the national and local levels, is changing in its definitions, structures, modes of support and mandates. Any institution that presumes to bolster the Jewish community must reflect the needs and aspirations of current communities and must nurture emergent communities. Collaboration and communication are critical modalities.

The Reconstructionist movement is committed to congregations as a vital way for individuals to enter into and experience community, even as we note that congregations themselves are changing in light of shifting understandings of membership. We aim to offer resources and support for Jews and fellow travelers who gather together to engage in positive Jewish living and learning.

We aim to utilize the potential of technology as one critical tool to build communities and boost communication. At the same time, we will honor face-to-face relationships and will build structures and processes to support their growth.

No national organization can take traditional revenue streams (including tuition, congregational dues, and individual donations) for granted, nor can it presume that it has earned its right to exist for the future. We must clarify our role in creating vibrant Jewish communities and communicate why members should want to maintain and invest in our vision and our institutions.

“Belonging” or “peoplehood” as an end—rather than as a means to vital Jewish engagement—is no longer a sufficient claim on Jews. Ideas and developments that previously unified the North American Jewish community, including the events of the Holocaust, the threat of anti-Semitism, and the establishment of Israel, no longer serve as driving forces for community building. We need to cultivate both affective and behavioral reasons for why people should belong to the Jewish community.

Reconstructionist ideology retains its vitality and has much to offer us. Out of this ideology, we want to foster a Jewish community that celebrates diverse ways for people to experience and express their Jewishness. In this diversity, we want to cultivate high standards of engagement and low barriers for entry and participation.

Where the North American Jewish community was once largely united in its support for Israel, this consensus is increasingly fractured, and the rhetoric emerging from all camps tends to disenfranchise other viewpoints and alienate Jews from one another and from Israel. We recognize that fracturing only occurs where deep connections already exist. We aim to further the historic Reconstructionist connection to the land, culture, people and state of Israel and to model and foster thinking and behavior that deepens connections among and between Jews around the world.

Fundamentalist expressions of religion seem to be thriving in America and are perceived to be the “authentic” voices of religion in the public square. In Reconstructionist Judaism, we are creating and communicating a network of thriving progressive communities that will register as legitimate and powerful in the mainstream world and that will collectively function as a real religious alternative for individuals seeking meaning.