Next Steps

Letter to the Editor

Published November 21, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
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You omitted key information about the role of NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation as an igniter of systemic change in the field of Jewish young adult engagement (“Birthright Reshuffles Follow-up Effort,” November 9). Furthermore, what you present as a reduction in funding from Birthright Israel Foundation was a result of many donors giving directly to NEXT — instead of via the foundation — after NEXT was incorporated, in 2009. Birthright Israel Foundation provides no support to NEXT from its general campaign.

Three years ago, NEXT recognized that local Jewish community organizations and networks already offer an array of local Jewish experiences for Jewish young adults. Instead of competing with and duplicating their efforts, NEXT made the strategic decision to utilize various channels to connect thousands of Birthright Israel alumni to these opportunities. NEXT also offers these organizations consultation and training based on its prior programmatic experience, and city-specific data analysis on Birthright Israel alumni.

Simultaneously, NEXT continues to offer innovative, successful national programs for trip alumni, including the flagship NEXT Shabbat program. This year already, 1,291 trip alumni have hosted 1,480 Sabbath meals for more than 21,065 Jewish young adults.

NEXT’s organizational transition was an outcome of an evaluation that revealed positive participant feedback for NEXT’s local programming, along with challenges ahead if NEXT tried to scale this model. We, and the Jewish communal sector, should view this type of analysis and subsequent transition as a positive step. NEXT’s revised approach allows for efficient engagement of Jewish young adults, helping local Jewish organizations engage Birthright Israel trip alumni and their peers more broadly and deeply than before.

CEO, NEXT: A Division of Birthright
Israel Foundation
New York, N.Y.

Defending Principle

Leonard Fein is usually so clear and forceful — and correct — in his arguments. So, we were especially disappointed with his defense of the decision by the Union for Reform Judaism’s Oversight Committee to allow our movement’s social justice conferences to take place in boycotted, nonunionized Hyatt hotels (“When Principles and Interests Collide,” November 9).

Hyatt has refused to agree to a fair process for workers to organize. Instead, Hyatt increasingly outsources hiring, raises quotas on the amount of hard work that workers are expected to do, and provides no effective remedy if workers who raise a protest get fired.

Contrary to Fein’s assertion, other organizations, including religious denominations, have taken principled positions to observe the boycott. Sometimes they have been able to negotiate a release from a contract; sometimes they have accepted that cost for the sake of justice.

Today, hotel workers cannot strike effectively, because they can be replaced. Currently, a boycott is the main tool that hotel workers have to assert pressure for a just and fair workplace.

Reform Judaism has a history of standing in solidarity with those who struggle for justice, and the Religious Action Center has been the flagship of this struggle. It is a profound contradiction of its own history and mission for the RAC to hold conferences in hotels where there is no union to protect the rights of workers.

We believe that a social justice conference held at a boycotted and nonunion hotel is akin to the Talmud’s graphic example of “tovel v’sheretz beyado” — immersing oneself in the ritual, purifying bath while holding an impure object.

We look forward to the day when public events of the Reform movement will be held only in venues with unionized labor and a fair contract. In the meantime, we call on our Reform colleagues to join us in honoring the Hyatt boycott.

In the collision of principles and interests, let’s choose principles.


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