The time is here for our Jewish community’s emerging young leadership to reach high.
By Alicia Blumenfeld Chandler
We should not sit and wait — America’s “next” generation of Jewish leaders. We should be, and need to be, Jewish leaders today. Our future, our world and our city are at stake.We need to be part of the conversation. And sometimes, we need to lead the conversation.
ACCESS, the American Jewish Committee’s new generation program, is led by those in their 20s and 30s with the goal of empowering global Jewish advocates to effectively and thoughtfully interface within the Jewish community and with ethnic and religious leaders, young opinion makers and diplomats about issues of importance to Jews around the world. We are not training to be leaders tomorrow. We are not sitting at the kids’ table waiting for our turn. We are informed and involved, advocating for our Jewish future today.
The reality is our generation will not tolerate being told what we are supposed to believe or what we need to do. Our strength is not waiting in line. We will be engaged on our terms—or we will not be engaged. While this may present frustrations, it also presents great opportunities, as I have discovered over my past three years with ACCESS.
Coming To Terms
Before ACCESS, when I heard arguments that made me uncomfortable — Israel was an apartheid state, Israel had a tragic human rights records — I was trapped. Was I betraying my Jewish identity if I didn’t defend Israel? Was I betraying my beliefs in human rights and self- determination if I didn’t criticize Israel? Could I be thoughtful and articulate on issues that are both incredibly important and incred- ibly complex? Often, I just sat silent, afraid to speak up.
I quickly realized I was not alone in this struggle. Many of my peers — even those highly educated in Jewish history — did not feel that they knew enough about the current issues facing the Jewish people to thoughtfully engage. So they, too, stayed silent.
But we feared that if we stayed silent, what does that mean for the future of our community?
We need to become better informed on the issues that we care about, and we need the opportunity to find our own voices. That is what ACCESS has done for me. Before ACCESS, I could not have imagined traveling to Geneva, Switzerland, in 2008 as a delegate to the Durban Review Conference. I would not have thought myself capable of moderating a panel about coalitions and cooperation at the first ACCESS 20/20 Weekend. I would never have thought that I would have tea with the counsel general from Japan and espresso with the counsel general of Italy in the same day.
ACCESS helped me become informed, helped me find my voice. It has given me access to journalists, intellectuals, diplomats and leaders (as it has for other leaders here in Detroit and around the world). Knowing the talent, the intellect and the drive that exists within this community, I hope more of you will join us.
Whether your involvement means attending our monthly book club where we have created a safe forum for our members to debate issues as an exercise in becoming effective advocates, joining us in Washington, D.C., for our annual 20/20 conference or traveling on one of our international trips such as our upcoming trips to Germany, Israel and our first-ever trip to Austria next summer, there are many opportunities for you to join with other ACCESS supporters from around the world to find your voice, discover what you believe and learn what impact you can have.
To the next generation of leaders, now is the time to become informed, become engaged and have an impact. It is time to have courageous conversations. It is time to ask hard questions about what we believe and what we can do to help the Jewish people. It is time to push our boundaries. It is time to get involved. There is so much good work being done within our generation, but there also are so many of us with talent and energy still sitting on the sidelines.
It is time to get impatient. We should not wait until tomorrow to get involved.We need to become leaders today.
Alicia Blumenfeld Chandler of Birmingham is co-chair of the ACCESS Global Steering Committee and co- founder of Bloomfield Township-based AJC ACCESS Detroit.
For more information about ACCESS, go to www.ajc-access.org. Become a friend at www.facebook.com/ajcaccessdetroit. Slingshot ’11-’12 named ACCESS one of the 50 most-innovative North American Jewish nonprofits, stating: “With ACCESS, [the American Jewish Committee] has cracked the magic formula to make young leadership work…”