There is much to learn from how President Obama led his election campaign and broadcast his vision during the inaugural that can benefit the communal strategies of American Jewry.
Yet as a marketer of Jewish life, when I raise the issue — as I frequently do these days — I am often told, "Stop using Obama as the example. We have Republicans in our ranks, and you are distancing them from your message." Someone even told me that if I want to advocate these lessons, I should think of using another example.
Are we as a community so committed to our energy-depleting and grating fractiousness that we're willing to turn a deaf ear to valuable lessons? The message I am delivering has nothing to do with politics — with who's a Republican or a Democrat. Just ask Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who despite coming from the opposite side of the political spectrum, has sought to cast himself as the Obama candidate in the current Israeli-election campaign.
This message has everything to do with a stunning success in leadership vision, fundraising, cause advocacy, community organizing, electronic viral penetration, mass participation and achieving a goal once considered impossible. It has to do with a methodology and message that is resonating with our most sought-after target audience — the next generation. It is much of what we want and need as a community that finds itself in visionary, leadership and demographic peril. There is no better and more powerful example.
Obama's message is not only about a change in government. It is a wake-up call about changing times and a changing society.
Many today still don't understand how the Jewish communal enterprise is being vastly affected by the technology revolution, and what that means for information access, communication, engagement among people, causes, funding and the creation of community.
If we are serious about building our capabilities in these times, our leadership must be reading and consuming the trends that surround us. We cannot be stymied in the technological advances for our enterprise because a few of the senior laypeople who donate major dollars don't read their e-mail, and therefore assume the technology is not that urgent.
While those people are indeed important and may need a different kind of attention, they are a quickly disappearing anomaly.
I have heard other communal leaders say that in the shadow of the economic collapse and the Bernard Madoff affair, it will be several years until we return to what was. But that misses the point: The message of change means that even when the economy improves, we will then be something different. We will never return to what was. The Madoff affair has caused deep damage and triggered soulful learning that also will lead us down the road to be something different. What that difference is will be up to us if we seize the opportunities, rather than delude ourselves into thinking that change isn't ongoing or influential.
Obama has shown us the importance of the collective. In Jewish life, we have abandoned that for the 80-20 or 90-10 rule — the idea that 80 percent to 90 percent of the money comes from 10 percent to 20 percent of donors. This has driven us to discount the masses as serious funding partners of Jewish life. Obama raised millions from grass-roots participation. He saw their potential. We need to see it as well, especially during a massive economic downturn. They are our opportunity.
Obama created his campaign as a cause and a movement. We need to create a cause and a movement among the Jewish masses, concentrating on the next generation, but including other generations as well.
To do this, we must expand the Internet and communications departments within Jewish organizations. I see everywhere how these departments are still being viewed as invitation shops, being strangled with the demands for e-vites to events and are not being perceived as strategic partners to be invested in the creation of sophisticated communication, Internet and viral strategies that a new era demands.
But more than anything, Obama has been a beacon of vision. He built a perception of visionary leadership throughout his campaign and during his inauguration. He projects himself as a leader. He speaks about ideas. He telegraphs to the issues of a new generation. He offers content. He exudes intelligence, charisma and humanity. Do our communal leaders do this? Do they inspire?
We have much to learn from this president. He has created a framework that offers our community great opportunity and possibility. Are we going to be strategic enough to take advantage? Or are we just going to become petty, fight with and challenge one another, while opportunity slips through our fingers?
Gary Wexler is the owner of the Los Angeles-based Passion Marketing, consulting with many large nonprofits, including many in Jewish life.