Monday, September 6, 2010

competing agendas

Yesterday, I was asked to speak at a press conference announcing a new petition denouncing bigotry against Muslims. I hesitated, because the press conference was going to be held during working hours, which would mean I would have to leave my office for an hour. The complicating factor was that the place I work, the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA), was one of the groups organizing the petition, but I was being asked to speak about the petition in the context of my connection to the Workmen's Circle, a Jewish progressive group in Boston where I am a member. Leaders at the Workmen's Circle, I suspect, knew that my presence at the conference would be seen as showing the support of young Jews, and that I would publicly be associated with Moishe Kavod House, but they were hoping I would highlight my membership and connection to Workmen's Circle. Since I work at JALSA as an administrative assistant, not as an advocate or political assistant or organizer, I don't think it occurred to anyone to associate me with JALSA's political work. But since the press conference was being held during work hours, I felt uncomfortable asking for the time from my JALSA work unless it was going to be in JALSA's self interest, and I was doing the work on behalf of JALSA. But of course, peope arleady knew JALSA supported the petition, the petition organizers wanted me there representing Workmen's Circle, or at least, the young folks at Moishe Kavod House.

All this brings me to an issue I constantly struggle with at Moishe Kavod House, how to juggle multiple agendas. Many institutions are excited to partner with Moishe Kavod becuase they see it as a chance to get young folks involved with their institution. We see our role as connecting young Jews to the larger Jewish community, so we are also excited about these partnerships, but they are often complicated. If Moishe Kavod co-sponsors an event with a local synagogue, young folks come, but they get more excited about returning to Moishe Kavod than they do to returning to the local synagogue. JALSA shares the values of Moishe Kavod and looks for opportunities for me to connect the two organizations, but since my role at Moishe Kavod is much more public than my role at JALSA, when I work on event or talk about an issue, whatever role I am playing is more likely to be associated with Moishe Kavod than JALSA. Furthermore, if I organize an event that is being co-sponsored by JALSA and Moishe Kavod, I have to meet the expectations both of what my boss at JALSA wants and what the community at Moishe Kavod wants. That puts me in a very hard position, especially since Sheila pays my salary, but the folks at Mose Kavod are my friends, plus, they pay my rent.

Moishe Kavod has been very successful in getting young adults Jews excited about Judaism, but sometimes it feels like other organizations want to reap the rewards of finally having young adult jews excited, and hope to partner with us and absorb young adult Jews into their institutions. We are excited to connect young adult Jews into other institutions, but we have to recognize that there is a reason young adult Jews are finding a home in our community not the previously established ones. We do things differently, we are peer led, we are open to all forms of Jewish identity, we are social, and we are justice oriented. How to support other Jewish institutions that have less success recruiting young Jews and want to benefit off our model without incorporating some of the elements of our model into their own is confusing to me. Its something I am always wrestling with.

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