A Federation Fellow Gains Hands-On Look Into Jewish Philanthropy

One of the major challenges facing Jewish organizations today is how to include young voices in an organic way that is authentic to their mission and goals. All too often, Jewish organizations either ignore young Jewish voices and continue to program in ways that overlook changing demographic and cultural trends, or they invest a great deal of money in young adult events yet do not put enough thought into how the programming fits into the organization's mission (or honor decades of hard work and programming that Jewish lay leaders and professionals have invested in the organization).

As part of the Federation's “Fed Fellows” program, I was placed on the board of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Over the course of my experience I learned that for Jewish organizations to successfully integrate young Jewish voices, they must balance two important strategies: allowing for independence and freedom in young programming, and educating young voices to listen – and to be heard.

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is the oldest Jewish film festival in the country; it has a long history of being a venue for exploring diverse and alternative representations of Jewish identity. The Festival has played a vital role in navigating some of the pressing issues facing Jews today and has been at the forefront of welcoming people of all backgrounds to view Jewish films and engage in conversation about Jewish identity.

When I and one other fellow were matched with the festival, we were tasked with increasing young adult enrollment in the highlighted summer festival. Over the course of the year, we worked alongside the festival staff and other board members to curate programs that spoke to young Jews in San Francisco. We also helped organize after-film events to bring out young adults to mingle with filmmakers, and encouraged and facilitated conversations about Jewish content even after festival was over. During this fellowship, I felt a personal indebtedness to the organization’s rich history. Whether it was brainstorming that took place on board retreats or the countless board members who reached out to share their own personal histories of the festival, I was motivated to make sure that the programming created owned up to the rich history of the festival.

The results of our effort on the board were fruitful. We were able to create a new young-adult advisory board that consisted of 15 diverse members of the community. We increased Young Adult passes by 72%, resulting in a significant and visible young adult presence at a number of key events.

My journey on this board was supported by wonderful training by the Federation on how to be a productive member of a board. During our monthly sessions, I not only learned how to find my own personal voice on the board of an organization, but also about the rich and long history of Jewish philanthropy in the Bay Area. I felt that it was as important to understand my place in my community’s history as it was to find my own personal voice.

There is a Hasidic teaching that says “every person should have two pockets, with a note in one saying, Bishvili nivra ha’olam (for my sake was the world created), and a note in the other saying, Anochi afar va’efer (I am dust and ashes).” To a certain extent, I think this can be a slogan for our cohort. It is true that attracting young adults to Jewish organizations is important, and we are playing an important role in that process. Jewish philanthropy in the Bay Area has such an extensive and unique history, and we are indebted to follow and live up to it.

Adam speaking at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival


Adam Eilath is a participant in our Federation Fellows program.
For more information about the Federation Fellows program, or other Leadership Development opportunities, contact Dona Standel or call 415.512.6436.



October 09, 2013


Adam Eilath