They came from New York, Boston, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, some with formerly taboo tattoos, some with colorful, trendy yarmulkes. There were female rabbis, a Jewish hip-hop artist, and Jews of every denomination. They were attending the “ThinkTank 3” conference for the Professional Leadership Project (PLP), an organization designed to help young Jewish professionals in their 20s and 30s become the Jewish leaders of the future. The conference, held October 28-30 at Santa Monica’s Sheraton Delfina Hotel, featured inspirational talks, discussion groups, and one-on-one mentoring sessions.
Launched just three years ago, PLP has grown into a nationwide organization divided into regional “hubs.” Ellen Glettner, PLP Director of Operations, told the Mirror that PLP has two programs, an academic fellowship program for those pursuing Jewish studies, and a mentoring program for volunteers and professionals who are working or want to work for Jewish organizations. “We were concerned about there not being enough members of the next generation to take over from us,” said Glettner.
At the opening “Town Hall Meeting,” ThinkTank co-chair Ari Moss told the participants, “This conference is about relationships. It’s about radical change. It’s about 21st century Judaism.”
Keynote speaker Scott Sherman, executive director of the Transformative Action Institute, emphasized the importance of focusing on solutions rather than problems, and asked the young people to break up into smaller groups to discuss “what has touched you most?” Following the break, some people shared their thoughts on what had made them interested in giving back to the Jewish community.
A young woman named Rachel described coming from an interfaith family and having little awareness of her Jewish background. She participated in the “Birthright Israel” program, in which young Jews receive a free trip to Israel to learn about their heritage. Upon her return she felt: “I want to be Jewish,” and sought out Jewish organizations, eventually finding her way to PLP.
While the Jewish faith was an inescapable topic of the conference, with several discussions on topics like “Jewish Spirituality: An Oxymoron?” many participants saw themselves as culturally Jewish, or as religious in their own way. There were many people who admitted to having come around to their Jewish identity after being brought up in non-observant or interfaith households.
Yitz Jordan, also known as “Y-Love,” was the Jewish hip-hop artist who kicked off one of the Town Hall sessions by performing a hip-hop composition based on an ancient Aramaic text. Y-Love is of Ethiopian and Puerto Rican parentage, but found himself interested in Judaism at an early age, which led to his conversion.
Asked about the growing Jewish hip-hop movement, Y-Love said, “Not only is there a big Jewish hip-hop scene in New York, but there’s a big Jewish underground music scene. Every night, there’s something going on.”
Todd Schechter, a documentary film producer and “talent” participant, offered a free screening of his work-in-progress, Being Jewish. The half-hour film featured interviews with twentysomething Jews in New York and Israel, who discussed Jewish identity and the ever-present issue of Israel versus Palestine. “My idea is not to push a position,” said Schechter, “but to create a forum.”
There were also discussion groups on the “Who’s A Jew” debate, Jewish fund-raising, gender equity, Jews and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community, and even “The Greening of Judaism,” which had to compete with a much more well-attended discussion on Jewish blogging.
Overall, “ThinkTank,” for all its thought-provoking topics, seemed to be fun for the participants. For information on PLP and how to apply for the program go to jewishleaders.net.