Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Identity to be focus at local Book of Life signing

Published in Volume 63, Issue 24 of the Arizona Jewish Post, December 21, 2007.

"The current generation, in terms of its sense of itself and its relationship to the broader Jewish world, differs significantly from the generations prior," says Jewish educator Arna Poupko Fisher. Fisher will be the keynote speaker at the Jewish Community Foundation's Endowment Book of Life community signing, which will be held Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 5 p.m. at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. Her talk, "The Jewish Journey: Faith, Spirit, and Promise," will explore Jewish identity and how one takes one's place in the continuum of history that links the generations.

Unlike previous generations, Fisher says that younger Jews, including "millennials"--those born between the late 1970s and mid-1990s--do not tend to view their connection to the larger Jewish community as a given. "Young people are not drawn to Jewish commitment unless it brings value to their personal lives, to their professional lives, and to their families," she continues. "It's very personal." The change has become a preoccupation for Jewish organizations seeking to further involvement among young people, giving rise to projects such as birthright israel, which organizes free Israel trips for teens and young adults.

Despite the challenge the organized Jewish community faces in engaging young people, Fisher sees positive trends emerging, including a decreased tendency to place historical persecution at the center of Jewish identity. "We don't want to be defined by our sufferings," she says. "We want to be defined by our triumphs."

Fisher grew up in Canada, in what she describes as "a normative Jewish home where commitment to community and Israel were a given, but religious commitment and observance was done with moderation." During her early teens, she discovered a more intensive form of Judaism and decided to live a more religiously committed life. "I've never looked back," she says of her personal transformation.

Fisher now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she serves as a faculty member at the Wexner Heritage Foundation and the Department of Jewish Studies at the University of Cincinnati. She has lectured in over 120 communities across North America and has made numerous appearances on national radio and television.

The Endowment Book of Life began in 1990 as a way for donors to share their personal stories and to affirm their intent to make a contribution to the Jewish community. Dozens of Jewish communities have since undertaken similar endeavors. In Tucson, the personal statements are kept in an archive at the Jewish Community Foundation, and are also available for viewing on the organization's website and at the JCC. Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri, director of communications for the Jewish Community Foundation, says that in adding their names to the Endowment Book of Life, signatories "make a promise for the future of the Jewish community, linking all the generations." They are then given the opportunity to work with the foundation in making a "legacy plan," serving as a blueprint for planned giving toward organizations or causes within the Jewish community and beyond.

The free event will include a light buffet dinner, a performance by the Tucson Jewish Youth Choir, and kids' activities and childcare.

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