In our early years we thought of Federation as a central address, and over time this morphed into a hub-like paradigm with Federation as convener. But just as our community and our world have evolved – so has our role.
More recently I have begun to think of Federation as “weaving community” where Federation works with our organizational partners in mutually supportive ways to build a network of services. This “weaving” model results in enhanced collaboration and allows our community to be less institutionally-focused and nimbler in responding to community needs.
The Jewish Federation draws its strength from its partners. When the work of our partners shines – the Federation basks in that light. At the same time, the Federation’s primary mission is to enhance the power of the collective. When we are at our best, our partners are able to draw on the strength of the Federation and the collective community effort that the Federation helps to coalesce.
Organizationally, we have established a Jewish Community Roundtable – co-chaired by a Congregational Rabbi and an Agency Board Chair; with the convener role filled by the Federation Board Chair. This Roundtable enables us to tackle community key issues in a collaborative manner –such as teen engagement, services to people with disabilities and transportation for seniors, to mention a few. The Federation helps convene several other “tables” for collaboration including meetings of synagogue leaders, religious school directors and agency executives. The Federation and Foundation have also aligned to offer one community grant program to support innovation.
Weaving community is not just an abstract idea; it translates into helping us become the community we aspire to be. Here are a few tangible examples:
Concierge: Our Jewish Community Roundtable oversees a free “customer services department” through a concierge who, along with our jewishtucson.org website, is entirely funded by the Federation. We hear time and again that we have a welcoming community – and we know this is a result of efforts such as these – an outgrowth of weaving community.
Weintraub Israel Center’s Twinning Project: Our Federation created an Israel Center in partnership with the JCC with the mission of strengthening connections between Tucsonans and the land and people of Israel. Currently, the WIC coordinates 18 Twinning projects between Tucson’s synagogue religious schools, JCC pre-school and Tucson Hebrew Academy classrooms – and Israeli classrooms; involving over 650 young people.
Special Needs Inclusion Director: Through our Federation’s Coalition for Jewish Education, we employ a Special Needs Inclusion Director who works with Synagogue Religious School Directors to craft individualized educational plans and provide one-on-one tutors for students with special needs.
Embracing the Broader Community: Our Jewish community expects us to take care of the most vulnerable members of our Jewish community – while also lending a helping hand to our broader community. This year the Federation led a major Jewish community effort to help create a new home for the Sister Jose Homeless Shelter for Women. We are making a difference in the broader community with a Jewish voice.
2017’s accomplishments: This year included the growth of our PJ Library Program, the expansion of our Holocaust History Center and, most notably, the creation of a professional and secure home for the Jewish Federation and Foundation on the Jewish Community Campus. We also launched a major effort to fund innovative programming to reach young people and young families at our local congregations.
This model of weaving community requires a sense of shared ownership amongst the key organizational leaders, and it requires all to accept the premise that “no one organization can go it alone.” Admittedly, this work is, and will always be, a work in progress. I hadn’t heard of the term “weaving community” when the image occurred to me but when I searched the internet I located Cheryl Honey’s contribution to The Change Handbook, second edition, which postulated that “community weaving” has the following purpose: “to weave the human and tangible resources of the grassroots with the knowledge and skills of formal systems.” It goes on to offer the following with regard to outcomes of this approach of community weaving:
• builds and bridges social and human capital
• maps and measures assets for community development
• creates resilient, interdependent social networks
• increases protective factors linked to community health and well-being
• sparks initiative, innovation and ingenuity
• creates micro enterprises
The work of weaving community is challenging but the outcomes, when we reach our potential, is no less than the fulfillment of our sacred mission.
Stuart Mellan is president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.