Despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona have been moving ahead with the strategic planning process known as “2020 and Beyond: Reimagining Jewish Life in Southern Arizona” and will soon share a road map outlining the path ahead.
The process began in spring 2019 and with the help of Rosov Consulting, an outside agency that specializes in Jewish community work, first steps included meetings with stakeholders and broader focus groups. A market research survey in February and March of this year netted 1,800 responses reflecting a variety of age groups, participation levels, and geographic locations in Tucson and Southern Arizona. Follow-up “meaning-making meetings” with more than 200 community members, held primarily via Zoom, delved into the information gleaned from the survey and focus groups.
“I was really very appreciative of the opportunity to attend a ‘meaning-making’ session,” says Liz Kanter Groskind, a community volunteer recently honored as Federation’s Woman of the Year. “It was very helpful for me to understand the feedback received in the process as a whole, and to participate with the other people in that particular session in synthesizing the recommendations made by the consultants and leadership team here in Tucson and discussing what we saw from the data gathered. It’s a really pivotal time for our community and the way the process was opened to the different parts of the community in general just underscores that.”
Several areas of consensus emerged from all the information gathering efforts, says Graham Hoffman, president and CEO of the Federation and Foundation. They include the need to expand multiple entry points to Jewish life, recognition that the local Jewish community is actually a “community of communities,” a desire to mobilize loving-kindness, growing commitment to social justice, and a yearning for more collaborative efforts.
All of these areas fall under the heading of engagement, “a theme that cuts across all we do in our community,” says Hoffman.
The data helps clarify what kind of community we want to be, says Aviva Zeltzer-Zubida, Ph.D., the Federation’s vice president for planning and community engagement.
Expanding on the “community of communities” concept, Hoffman explains, “rather than seeing ourselves as one holistic entity of which someone is either a part, or not a part, we are actually made up of micro-communities.” People often participate in several micro-communities, from synagogues, chavurot, and friend groups — such as parents of kids who are in school together — to involvement with local Jewish agencies such as the Tucson Jewish Community Center, as well as organizations such as Hadassah or Jewish War Veterans.
Hoffman sees the role of the Federation and Foundation as “network weavers,” helping to create both new entry points to, and intersections among, these micro-communities.
In the focus groups, survey, and meaning-making sessions, people overwhelmingly called for more collaboration among synagogues and Jewish agencies, says Hoffman, explaining that rather than the occasional pulpit exchange or shared class — which he says are wonderful — the goal here would be to create strategic, long-term collaborations.
Noting that loving-kindness is the translation of the Hebrew word “chesed,” one of the core values cited in the Federation’s mission statement, Hoffman says some ways of mobilizing this force for good include caring for priority populations (such as seniors and families with young kids, among others), advancing social justice, expanding community service, and championing efforts to repair the world, or in Hebrew, tikkun olam.
Other key themes the planning process has identified include enhancing Jewish education and advancing myriad approaches to Jewish spiritual, religious, and cultural life.
One example of a new approach to Jewish spiritual, religious, and cultural life Rosov Consulting recommends is OneTable, a program that provides some financial assistance and a wealth of other resources for people “21 to 39-ish” to host Shabbat dinners in their homes for their peers. (Due to COVID-19, these dinners are currently virtual.)
Another key concern for Federation and Foundation, Hoffman says, is how to enhance communications.
Although Federation has started to streamline its communications vehicles, keeping up with community events and news may still be overwhelming, he acknowledges, pointing out that across the community, despite COVID-19, there is still a lot happening.
The question throughout the process, says Zeltzer-Zubida, is “How do we as a community drive change?”
There’s a dynamic tension, Hoffman points out, between offering many entry points to Jewish life, and trying to create greater synergy and collaboration, while making it more manageable for the end-users — the Jewish community members.
And there’s tension, adds Zeltzer-Zubida, between caring about the community as a whole — “putting on your community hat” — and caring about a specific organization.
“It’s important to remember that the directives and initiatives that will be the result of this study are really driven by what we heard from the community. The driving force is to keep remembering and hearing the voice of community members,” she says, rather than relying on “what we think and the way we’re used to doing things.”
“Navigating the tension between legacy and the future,” she adds, calls for “having a lot of respect and love for what we used to do, but really being ready to let some of that go in order to explore totally new things.”
Deborah Oseran, Federation board chair, is confident the community is up for the challenge.
“Now through working groups and community support we begin the critical tasks of implementing these findings by designing new approaches to our missions that will result in the outcomes our community members have determined will make Southern Arizona the Jewish community we want now and for the foreseeable future,” Oseran says. “In achieving these outcomes, we are cognizant that our community-first approach relies on strengthening the strategic alliances of our Jewish institutions, agencies and synagogues with one another and with other service providers to ensure that our plans match our vision. We have a marvelous Jewish community and by working together I have every confidence that the Southern Arizona Jewish community will continue to be the loving, inspiring and caring community that welcomed me nearly 40 years ago and in which I am privileged to participate.”