Last fall, I received a call from a member of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.
They wanted to know if I’d be interested in helping run a committee focusing on improving Federation’s reach.
The call came during an exceptionally busy period in my day job and, while I said I’d help, I also said I couldn’t be involved at all until much later in the year. We agreed to speak again in a couple of months.
The months ticked by and a call came again in mid-November. I was putting my daughter to bed, a ritual that is a highlight of my day.
After that, it was meal planning for the rest of the week, laundry, catching up on the work I didn’t get to that day so I could be home in time for bedtime and, all of the sudden, it was 10 pm and I hadn’t returned the call.
A couple of weeks went by and the scrap of paper with the phone message I needed to return followed me around the house like a lone sock you hold on to in case you ever find its match – I would get to it, eventually.
I scheduled a call. Then got sent out of town for work unexpectedly and missed the phone date. I apologized, and offered to call again. But my daughter had a fever and wasn’t sleeping, and so the call never got made.
I was also going to return a call about another committee, and respond to an e-mail about getting involved with the shul. None of it happened.
In the 18 months since I returned to work, I’ve learned work/life balance is a teeter-totter – when something goes up, something else goes down.
It’s a challenge all the time, including when you are looking beyond work life and home life and seeking to get involved in community.
When Federation talks about being more inclusive, it’s from two perspectives: ensuring programming meets the needs of as wide a range of people as possible, but also ensuring the organization itself is inclusive.
This means looking at committees and boards and who sits on them to ensure membership cuts across the spectrums of age, gender, religious affiliation and socio-economics, to name a few.
But there’s another way to look at it. Is the way the Federation itself is structured as inclusive as possible?
The work of the highly devoted and capable professionals who run Federation is backed up by an army of volunteers who sit on committees like the one I was called to participate in.
Committees are driven by meetings. Meetings beget more meetings and more committees in a way analogous to those chapters in the Torah that are nothing but genealogy.
We’d skip over those chapters at Hillel Academy because there was no story there, just history.
When you look at the history of community leadership, it is striking how many past Federation leaders were self-employed.
To rise in the volunteer ranks, you need to be able to give time – a lot of time. And only those who have full command over their schedules have that kind of time.
Young families don’t have that flexibility. In many cases today, both parents work outside the home in jobs that don’t allow for attending daytime meetings.
The after-school, after-work hours are jammed – parents of slightly older kids have soccer or drama classes or swim lessons, then homework time and bed. Parents of slightly younger ones are just trying to make it to bedtime, a time that’s often exactly when the evening committees are scheduled to meet, meaning it’s get a babysitter or bust.
Most parents I know who are engaged in community life are best when asked for one-offs. Can they help volunteer at an event? Be involved in a specific, short-term project with clearly defined goals? These are things that can be handled around the demands of raising a young family.
But their voices also need to be present in the long-term planning of our community’s future.
Just as the private sector is grappling with engaging a new generation of workers and adapting old structures to meet their needs, if the community wants to reach young families, get them involved and keep them engaged, perhaps there needs to be consideration given as to how the community management system itself is structured.
So, I’m sorry I didn’t call you back for so long, Jonathan. And you, Mike, and you, too, Stuart. I’m also sorry I had to say no. I’d say it’s not you, it’s me – but maybe it’s both of us.