Thursday, April 14, 2011

Programs versus People

Next week, starting Monday night, starts the holiday of Passover, often regarded as the single most observed Jewish event of the year (unless you count Chinese food on Christmas).

As many Jewish young adults return to their families for Seders, a large number will be targeted for 'young adult seders', programs organized or paid for by Federations, foundations, and other sources. While many of these programs will be incredibly positive for those who attend, they are rarely a substitute for the familiar familial settings.

It was this realization that caused me to start thinking about the situation in which we find ourselves, where programming has replaced people.

I am, on a weekly basis, invited to tens of events, ranging from fundraisers, concerts, panel discussions, and Jewish educational, social, cultural, and religious events.

The chance that I might actually get to have a Shabbat dinner with a few friends, instead of being at a 'Shabbat Dinner Program' is pretty slim. Or at least it was.

You see, organizations, from the Jewish Federation to Moishe House, Next Dor, and on down the line often confuse outcomes with outputs, substituting the number of programs and of participants at these programs for the actual larger goal of creating a Jewish community.

Perhaps this is a result of the non-profit industrial complex, that is to say that in trying to make our work comply with for-profit standards of return-on-investment, that we are forced to view people as widgets.

Jewish community isn't about the number of Shabbat programs I go to, but rather if I have a solid group of friends with whom I am regularly able to have a Shabbat dinner.

This doesn't mean programs aren't valuable. Providing someone, particularly a transplant with a place for Seder can be very powerful, but when we try to use the Seder to leverage other programs, instead of focusing on the people, the relationships, and the experience, I believe that something is lost.

On Passover, we celebrate leaving 'Mitzrayim', the Hebrew for Egypt, but literally translating to 'the narrow place'. It is therefore fitting that we should try to escape narrowly viewing our work as the number of programs we create and recognize that the programs are the vehicle to get us to the destination, they are not the destination itself..

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