The second in a series showcasing young Jewish Detroiters making their mark on communities across the country.
Not yet 30, David Dworin has already built his own NYC-based consulting practice and, at the same time, has been selected for prestigious board and fellowship opportunities in the Jewish community. At Dworin Consulting, he advises professional services firms on strategy, management and growth.
He also serves as a pro-bono consultant through the Taproot Foundation, a nonprofit that makes business talent available to organizations working to improve society. This past year, he was selected for the Shapiro Family Fellowship, one of 14 NYC residents deemed “future leaders of the worldwide Jewish community.” In this elite program, participants connect with their peers and mentors in the United States and Israel. As part of UJA’s Observership program, he sits on the board of the Mosholu Montefiore Community Center.
In the short time he’s lived in the Big Apple, Dworin is “one to watch” because he’s already made an impact on Jewish life in NYC. He is an example of how native Detroiters in the millennial generation are finding ways to balance professional objectives alongside serious communal and philanthropic roles.
How would you describe the Shapiro Family Fellowship?
Dworin: The Shapiro Family Fellowship brings together a diverse group of future Jewish leaders for a year of intense leadership development, starting with a trip to Israel and followed by monthly meetings throughout the year. Instead of giving us answers, it challenges us to ask questions — about Israel, about our Jewish identities and about Jewish life.
What has your involvement been like?
So far we’ve had an intense two-week trip to Israel in addition to a handful of meetings back in the states. The trip to Israel was phenomenal. While I’ve been to Israel twice, this trip was like no other. We engaged with all walks of Israeli life to learn about Israel as a society, not as a tourist destination or historical landmark.
What inspired your involvement in the Taproot Foundation?
I’ve served as a volunteer consultant on two separate service grants for the Taproot Foundation, one in Chicago and one here in New York. Taproot provided an opportunity for me to volunteer in a way that leveraged my professional skills — rather than just stuffing envelopes or packing boxes (which are also important!). I think it came from a combination of a number of factors — working with nonprofits and seeing how they could benefit from professional expertise honed in the business world. I volunteered because I want to make the world a better place and thought I could make a difference.
What led you to get involved in Jewish initiatives in New York, as someone who grew up outside of the community?
Connecting with Jewish initiatives didn’t have to do with geography. I’ve tried to do it wherever I’ve lived. It can be tough to break into a new community where it seems like everybody already knows each other, but I’ve found that if you’re willing to show up, do the work and sometimes push through the bureaucracy, most institutions are happy to have you.
To me, a big part of Judaism is tikkun olam, making the world a better place. Jewish philanthropic and service organizations are a great way to do that, so it’s always been an important part of how I connect to my community.
How would you compare/contrast the need for engagement of young Jews at an organized vs. a grassroots level?
It’s really critical to engage young Jews at both levels. At an organized level, many institutions struggle to engage young Jews. The messages they use to appeal to older donors — about crises in Israel or anti-Semitism — turn off younger donors. And a lot of these institutions need money to operate (I get that), but the pay-to-play nature of a lot of Jewish institutions can be a big turnoff to people early in their careers, who then feel disengaged.
So the organized Jewish community needs to make sure it’s doing a great job engaging Jewish young people, especially future leaders.
At the same time, some of the most interesting things are happening at the grass roots — at Shabbat dinners in people’s homes, through cool cultural experiments, and with small groups at temples and synagogues.
I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. The grassroots needs the support from the organized community to grow into the mainstream. And the organized community needs to engage with young people if it wants to ensure its survival.
In what ways did your upbringing influence your interest in Israel and the Jewish community?
My mom has been a Jewish educator for most of my life, and one of the most important things in her classroom, and in our family, was Jewish values. She made sure that we learned about tikkun olam, tzedakah and gimilut chasadim [acts of lovingkindness]. We had Shabbat dinners every week, went to Jewish summer camps and were involved in our synagogue. We went to every Jewish volunteer event we could.
But we were also involved in the broader community — we volunteered at Baldwin House, which serves primarily non-Jewish clients.
How do you maintain a connection to the Jewish Detroit community?I make it back to Detroit a few times a year, and I try to go to Jewish events if they’re happening while I’m in town. I went to last year’s Latke Vodka, and it was about ten times the size I remembered from its early years. I also will talk to my friends and family about what’s going on in the city, and pay attention to news that makes its way out. As a Detroiter living outside of Detroit, you notice any news article about the city and think “those are my people.”
Being a Detroiter who lives outside Detroit is an interesting experience. When the city went through its bankruptcy, people would come up to me and ask “is your family OK?” As if it were my family going bankrupt. The opposite happened after the first “Imported from Detroit” commercials a few years ago, when all of a sudden Detroit was cool again.
What advice would you offer Detroit or the Jewish community with regards to attracting/retaining young Jews?
Be welcoming to new people. Moving to a new community is hard, and moving to a new Jewish community can be even harder.
Create opportunities for people to get involved in a way that’s low risk. I like volunteer projects more than mixers or social events because it gives you something to do while you meet new people, and you’re giving back at the same time.
Detroit has a unique opportunity to innovate when it comes to Jewish life, but they need to be willing to abandon “the way things have always been done.” Try challenging new programs and overturn the old way of doing things, even if the geezers complain.
In the end, attracting and retaining younger Jews is hard, for the same reason that attracting and retaining young people to Detroit is hard. You need job opportunities that will let them apply their skills, challenge themselves professionally and grow into new opportunities.
(New York, NY)
Profession: Management Consultant at Dworin Consulting
High School/year: Andover High School, 2002
College/year: Michigan State University, 2005
Grad school/year: University of Michigan School of Information, 2006
Home Synagogue: Congregation Shaarey Zedek, Southfield
Parents: Barbara and Jeffrey Dworin
Siblings: Heidi, Amy and Jonathan
Series by Adam Finkel, Special to the Jewish News