Our View: Onto the Porch

Our View: Onto the Porch

The JFGA Front Porch is an effort to conduct an extended dialogue with every element of our vibrant Jewish community.

Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta CEO and President Eric Robbins
Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta CEO and President Eric Robbins

Jewish Atlanta is too good a community not to be better.

That truth is the basic premise behind a Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta initiative called The Front Porch: Unlocking the (Incredible) Potential of Jewish Atlanta, and it’s simply Federation’s most audacious and important undertaking of the 21st century.

You can read details about the Front Porch on page 14 of this week’s print edition, with plenty more to come over the next six or seven months. But what’s crucial to understand from the outset is that it’s not really about Federation.

Yes, it’s led and run by Federation staff. It’s happening because of still-new Federation President and CEO Eric Robbins’ drive to innovate and his existing working relationship with the consultants involved, Insyte Partner in Philadelphia. If it works, it will forever alter Federation so that it no longer embodies the mid-20th-century model of a central organization raising and distributing all the money for Jewish nonprofits.

But the transformation of Federation would mean nothing if it reflected change for change’s sake and was merely a desperate attempt to make a venerable institution appear relevant for another decade or so — long enough to kick the many problems of Federation and the Atlanta Jewish community to the next generation of leaders.

The Front Porch is something else. It’s an effort to conduct an extended dialogue with every element of our vibrant community — across all lines of geography, religious observance, family history, politics, age, gender and engagement — to assess collectively where we are, where we want to be and how we can get there.

The answers will provide the necessary guidance to figure out Federation’s proper role. Maybe it will shift to fund only innovation. Maybe it’s primary role will be a convener of community discussions. Maybe it will connect funders directly with nonprofits and gradually phase itself out, at least as a fundraising organization.

We don’t know at this point, less than two months after the Front Porch launched, and we shouldn’t know. More than 100 community leaders — representatives of all aspects of the community who are willing to give significant time to this project, not 100 big donors — are in the middle of fact-finding. They’re getting to know one another, studying Jewish and non-Jewish institutions locally and nationally, and holding conversations.

Here’s where you come in: What comes out of this yearlong process is only as good as the information that goes into it, and no matter how connected and involved they are, 100 people can’t know everything about a community of 125,000-plus.

From Oct. 18 to Nov. 14, Federation is holding 13 listening forums, each of which will give you 2½ hours to discuss the issues you and the other attendees think are most important. The sessions are designed to be convenient wherever you are and, in some cases, to appeal to specific mini-communities (seniors, interfaith families, empty-nesters, LGBTQ people). You’ll have to drive a bit if you’re as far south as Peachtree City, as far west as Hiram or north of Cumming, but the time is worth it to help create the future Jewish Atlanta you want to see.

So pick a session or two, and go. If you can’t make it, call the Front Porch team at 404-870-1617, and you can make arrangements to have a conversation. Don’t let this once-in-a-generation opportunity pass you by.

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