Sharing Knowledge: A Key to Our Survival

June 1, 2002
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By Marcella Kanfer

Driving recently to the airport with my fa-ther, we spoke about how the Jewish world - with a surplus of creativity and big ideas - is suffering from an inability to consistently and accurately share lessons, ideas, successes, failures, and “best practices.” Would a Jewish community leader in Melbourne, given the task to infuse lasting energy into her young adult population, know about Makor, the new cultural center for Jewish young adults in New York City? Would she be able to identify the nuances of what quickens and what stymies its progress? Would she know how to implement a similar innovation in Australia? Would she subsequently be able (and encouraged) to systematically share Melbourne’s experiences with New York and other communities around the world? How much money, time, and effort might the Jewish community save if the answer to these questions were, “Yes!”? What would it mean for our collective sense of connectedness if she responded, “Yes!”?

The array of disconnected innovative ideas for a flourishing Jewish future suggests the need to establish a universally accessible system for knowledge identification, management, and dissemination that would be predicated upon inter- and intra-communal dialogue. A Jewish People’s multi-million dollar fund could seriously inform how we pursue progress - indeed, how we work. In his essay “Transparency, Truth, and Restitution,” Israel Singer outlines the possibility of such a fund “to ensure the existence of the Jewish people.” Specifically, two changes would equip us to effectively meet the ever-changing needs of klal Yisrael. First, we must acknowledge that there is no one solution for Jewish survival and renewal; different ways of being Jewish are legitimate. Second, we must learn from one another’s experiments and experiences. This would revolutionize the Jewish future.

In the May 2002 issue of Sh’ma, Ahad La’am boldly stated that long-term hope for our people is predicated upon strengthening the Jewish spirit. He challenged us to strengthen our spirit by convening “a vigorous international debate about the mission of the Jewish people,” beginning with a Year of Visioning, followed by the creation of the Knesset Bet, an upper Jewish house of parliament, and a values-based curriculum for the Jewish people. How will we implement such ambitious ideas, especially given the internecine battles we fight over everything from peace politics to ritual practices?

First, we must create an independent international institute that transcends political, ideological, and religious identification and serves every Jew regardless of background. The institute would be charged with undertaking three core activities: convening, facilitating, and knowledge sharing. The institute would employ professional facilitators and documentors that would cross the globe to enable constructive debates about the mission of the Jewish people and to identify, capture, and make accessible the outcomes of each debate in a mega-repository. Every “Aha!” that one group has will become an asset to another group, creating a communal wealth we have yet to fathom, let alone experience.

This would only begin the accumulation of “knowledge wealth.” The Year of Visioning must morph into an ongoing process of self-examination and ideation. Time-demarcated milestones will measure success and mark accomplishment. A fundamental key will be the realization that our target is always moving. Today’s solution is not tomorrow’s; it is simply part of tomorrow’s foundation. Furthermore, the Year of Visioning will extend to strategy and tactics. This will root out organizational and programmatic redundancy and identify synergies as well as gaps. An expectation that 90 percent of our trials fail but 10 percent succeed will diminish the existential threat to organizations loath to confront irrelevance. Failure should be embraced and rewarded with new opportunities when that failure is due not to incompetence, but to a good idea proven wrong.

The Knesset Bet must have just and fair representation of our diverse people - age, gender, religious practice, ethnicity, nationality, and so forth. It must also have term limits and require adherence to certain norms of behavior and communication to keep the debates from descending to pettiness and posturing. The Knesset Bet would generate a roster of core Jewish values that would inform community-wide curriculum development addressing fields such as the environment, business ethics, and genetics.

The challenge before us is to simultaneously open up the floodgates to idea-sharing and knowledge-swapping, while using these insights to eliminate inappropriate ideas and ineffective ways of meeting the Jewish community’s goals. God willing, “never again” will the Jewish people be in the position to collect hundreds of millions of dollars from national governments and financial institutions as compensation for our victimization and property confiscation. Let us take this once-in-a-peoplehood opportunity in the form of the Jewish People’s Fund to create a brand new backbone for new ways of doing the business of the Jewish community. The question is not, “Can we afford this vision?” It is, “Do we have the koach - the strength - to pursue it?”

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Marcella Kanfer is a Director of the Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation, Board Member of the Jewish Funders Network and its Younger Funders Working Group Co-Chair, and former Vice President of Business Development for Jewish Family & Life!. She will begin an MBA program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business this fall after her summer wedding.

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