In nearly 20 years in Philadelphia, Rabbi Philip Warmflash has seen Jewish organizations spring up and flourish, only to fade away. Or merge. Or be reborn with a new name, and a new purpose.
The longtime communal worker doesn’t lament the changes. He welcomes them.
“I’m starting to hear more people say we have great things here, now we can have better things,” says Warmflash, 58, executive director of the Jewish Learning Venture — itself a poster child for the adapt-or-die mentality.
Jewish Learning Venture represents a merger of the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education, founded 25 years ago to strengthen and bring professionalism to congregational educational programs, and the Jewish Outreach Partnership, which traces its beginnings to the Hebrew Sunday School Society (later known as Community Hebrew Schools), and which sought to engage Jews in Jewish life and learning, and promote dynamic congregational life.
Warmflash, JOP’s founding executive director, says the new incarnation is about “Jewish learning, from formal to informal — all aspects of Jewish learning, with a real focus on families.”
Throughout his career, he has helped develop such programs as Synaplex Philadelphia, which sought to design the synagogue of the 21st century, and Making Connections Home Study Kits. He has served as a consultant for the Consortium for the Jewish Family, and was principal of the Community Hebrew Schools here.
Consistently high rates of intermarriage present an ongoing challenge to educators and communal workers, he says; with an estimated 45 percent of Jews under 40 married to non-Jews, the Jewish world must change its approach in order to survive.
“We have a growing number of non-Jewish parents, generally mothers, in our Jewish preschools who are raising Jewish children, resulting in the need to reach out and help them understand what their child is learning Jewishly.”
Congregational schools also must modify their language to include all Jewish families, many of which have multiple religious traditions: “Children and families will only be engaged when they can find themselves in the language of our congregations and institutions,” he says.
The Jewish world of tomorrow will include fewer organizations; those that do survive will be multipurposed and forward-looking, Warmflash predicts.
“The challenge will be that technology will make it so much easier — easier than it is now — to be in your own space, and we will have to find new reasons for people to come together. Coming together will take on a different texture, a different meaning.”