Federation Shabbaton to feature NYU professor

by | Sep 14, 2012 | What’s Happening

Friday, Oct. 26—Sunday, Oct. 28

David Elcott, a professor at New York University, will speak on Rebuilding Community: The Search for new models of leadership, during the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Shabbaton next month. As Scholar in Residence at Beth Chaverim, Beth El, B’nai Israel, Gomley Chesed, Kempsville Conservative, Ohef Sholom Temple, Temple Emanuel, and Temple Israel congregations, he will explore how the phenomenon of disconnect is playing itself out within the Jewish community and how to create ways to rebuild eroded social capital.

Elcott is the executive director of Israel Policy Forum (IPF), an advocacy thinktank dedicated to promoting solutions for the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He is author of A Sacred Journey: The Jewish Quest for a Perfect World, the former national director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, and the former vice president of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

Regarding the theme of the Shabbaton —Rebuilding Community—Elcott cites Harvard professor Dr. Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, the groundbreaking book on contemporary America, in how Americans have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors and social structures, whether the PTA, religious institutions, clubs, political parties, or bowling leagues.

“We know this only too well: fewer North American Jews are involved in communal service and organizations,” Elcott says. “And those who are involved give fewer volunteer hours. But the Jewish community depends specifically on Jewish affiliations as a way of expressing the unique Jewish role that sets us apart.”

This decline in voluntary association and civic involvement in Jewish communal affairs has serious implications for those who will lead the Jewish community as policy and decision-makers.

With a Ph.D. in Political Psychology and Middle East Studies, Elcott has lectured on the Middle East, Arab politics and Muslim-Western cultural conflict to corporate leaders, Congressional Representatives, Christian and Muslim religious leaders and heads of major Jewish organizations. He helped to resolve the divestment controversy against Israel with the Protestant churches and represented the Jewish community in interfaith settings in Rome, Germany, Argentina and Israel. As the executive director of IPF, Elcott oversees pro-Israel political advocacy in Washington, works with key policy analysts and former diplomats to develop Jewish policy on Middle East affairs, represents the Jewish community to political leaders around the world, and convenes symposia and conferences across North America and in Israel to find solutions to the violence and suffering in Israel and the region.

Two years ago, the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater undertook a strategic planning process regarding its own role and purpose. Intersecting with this role was the engagement and collaboration with temples and synagogues to build a strong and vibrant Tidewater Jewish community. It was in this spirit that new initiatives such as the Community Concierge and the Federation Shabbaton were created.

Plans for 2012–13 in this renewed effort to connect and collaborate include a continuation of the Community Concierge, grant allocations to synagogues, Community and Leadership Development, and events such as the Federation Shabbaton.

“A commitment to this community building process will result in more creative opportunities for constructive collaboration,” says Harry Graber, UJFT executive vice president. “We believe that these kinds of collaborations are worth pursuing, particularly in a period of shrinking affiliation and reduced resources.

“Through our community collaboration, we seek to reinforce the dynamic of the Federation as one of community builder. This change will not be easy, but it is vital to our efforts to move forward together,” says Graber.

For information on the Federation Shabbaton and other Federation-Synagogue partnership projects, contact Carolyn Amacher, community development specialist, at 757-452-3181 or camacher@ujft.org.