Embracing Change

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Local innovators remind us how critical change can be when it comes to keeping Jewish life relevant and meaningful.

Innovation is not a new concept in the Jewish world, but sometimes we need to be reminded about how critical creative change can be to help keep Jewish life relevant and meaningful.
 
This week, several local Jewish organizations were recognized beyond the borders of Philadelphia for their innovative spirit. These groups — all operating in very different spaces and serving very different needs — should be commended for their initiatives and honored for providing important models for how to navigate both continuity and change.
 
Jewish Learning Venture, JCHAI, Challah for Hunger, Jewish Renaissance Project at Penn Hillel, Moving Traditions and Ritualwell are all Philadelphia-based groups that were cited this week by Slingshot, a national entity that exists solely to call attention to innovation in the Jewish world. Three other groups that made the national list of 82 organizations — InterfaithFamily, Hazon and Moishe House — also have local affiliates.
 
Our history is replete with pivotal chapters of innovation — when adaptation saved us from likely extinction. Consider, for example, the evolution of rabbinic Judaism, without which the Jewish people would not have survived the post-Temple period, when our ancestors were exiled from the land of Israel.  
 
As the leaders of Slingshot note in the introduction to this year’s guide: “Innovation has not emerged as a counterpart
 to ‘traditional’ Jewish life, but rather as a path forward for every organization seeking to remain relevant in a changing Jewish community.”
 
Change has not always come easy to Philadelphia Jewry. The proud birthplace of many esteemed Jewish institutions, it has not been viewed from afar as “a hotbed of Jewish innovation” but rather a place of “strong, established, old-time organizations,” says Julie Finkelstein, a Bala Cynwyd native who is the associate director of Slingshot. 
 
But, she notes, that is changing, with a renewed interest in “really bringing fresh energy into Jewish life in Philadelphia.” Indeed, the organizations recognized by Slingshot are not the only ones looking at their mission and their means of attaining it with fresh eyes. Consider, for example, Tribe12, whose entrepreneurial fellowship program acts as an incubator for new ideas.    
 
That’s not to say that everything new is good, and everything old is not. Jewish tradition and ritual need not be sacrificed as we develop new ways to make them meaningful for millennials.
 
Likewise, we don’t have to ignore baby boomers and seniors, the stalwart supporters and participants in many of our central communal institutions, in our quest to attract younger patrons and participants.
 
However we seek to innovate, we should keep Finkelstein’s words in mind: “If you’re doing the same thing you were doing 10 years ago today, you’re not likely to remain relevant.” 

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