Jonah Halper is trying to make federation cool.
More than 100 people gathered at a bar in Englewood last Thursday for the Young Leadership Division’s Mix It Up event, meant to create a new generation of federation donors and advocates. About half the people there were new to YLD events. And while the group raised more than $’,000 for UJA-NNJ’s annual campaign, fund-raising wasn’t the evening’s goal, said Halper, YLD director.
"We don’t hit people up for money at the door," he noted. "It needs to be something they connect to in their own way. If that means dollars, great. If it means their time and sweat, we’re just as happy with that."
The purpose of YLD is to get younger people engaged in federation activities so they connect involvement in the organization with their social lives, said Halper. As their involvement grows and federation becomes a social vehicle for them, donating to the group will become a natural evolution of those feelings, he said, adding that the younger generation is a long-term investment for UJA-NNJ, with fewer short-term payoffs.
"You’re spending money up front to engage new people," he said. "You don’t see a return right away, you see it over time."
YLD is trying to introduce a sense of community among the area’s younger Jews, said David Opper, YLD’s co-chair.
"We’re trying to re-brand it ourselves and make it as much about the community and social [activities] as it is about the charity," he said.
Community was the draw for most participants in last week’s event.
Alan and Ruth Yung of Norwood have been involved in the Jewish community since they joined Shalom Baby in ’00’, but this was their first YLD event. They bought some of the raffle tickets sold to raise money for the campaign and won two pairs of sunglasses. Jack Linefsky of Fair Lawn, also at the event, said he met his wife Marjory through UJA-NNJ in 1999 and has been involved ever since. Attendee Brad Gatens of Paramus said he decided to check out the Mix It Up event with some friends that night. "Good food, good drinks" will keep him coming to future YLD events, he added.
"If you meet your friends through the organization, then your affiliation is going to be a long-term one," Opper said.
YLD has grown in the past year, making Halper optimistic about fulfilling its goals. The planning committee for last week’s event included 16 people (last year’s committee had three), while 70 people attended YLD’s Chanukah party in December. YLD plans to hold three to four major events per year, Halper said. Later this summer, the group will organize a family trip to a minor league baseball game. Through events like this, he said, YLD can gauge people’s interests and steer them to different parts of UJA, such as political advocacy, Israel advocacy, or community service.
"Investing in young leadership is really critical," Halper said. "That’s where the future of federation is going to happen."