A Conceptual Framework for 21st Century American Jewish Life

The conceptual framework for the Kenissa initiative comes from the theme essay from Rabbi Sid Schwarz’s book, Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Future. In that essay Schwarz argues that any organization that hopes to speak to the next generation of American Jews needs to advance one or more of four key value propositions. They are:

  • Kehilla/Covenantal Community: Intentional social arrangements in which people enter into mutual obligatory relationships, committed to a common mission and to each other.
  • Chochma/Wisdom: Applying the teachings and practices of one’s inherited religious and cultural tradition to give greater meaning to life.
  • Tzedek/Social Justice: The impulse to work for greater peace and justice, especially for the most vulnerable in the world.
  • Kedusha/Sacred Purpose: Finding one’s sacred purpose in life or life’s vocation.

This framework has constantly evolved since the launch of the Kenissa initiative in 2015. As people were invited to attend the National Kenissa Consultations and join the Kenissa Network, they were invited to write responses to Rabbi Sid’s essay, indicating what they agreed with, what they disagreed with and what they think the essay might have missed. Those short essays became the content for a weekly Kenissa blog, with hundreds of essays, offering unique perspectives on the future of American Jewish life.

At the first National Consultation of the Kenissa initiative in March 2016 a fifth value proposition was added based on feedback from the participants. That value was:

  • Yetzira/Creativity: The human ability to imagine/invent/create ideas, science, art and culture.

By the fifth National Consultation, in 2020, a sixth value was added:

  • Shomrei Adama/Guardians of the Earth: Pursuing a lifestyle that is ecologically responsible and sustainable, including new communal living arrangements.

At national Kenissa gatherings, the Venn diagram below, has been the trigger for fascinating conversations about the nature of Jewish community and Jewish life. Increasingly, the value propositions came to be discussed as themes or “portals”, representing the doorways through which Jews might enter into Jewish life. That is how the project came to be called Kenissa, the Hebrew word for “entrance-way”.

The graphic was used the way Jews often use sacred texts. It has excited peoples’ imaginations and invited all manner of commentary. As such, the Venn diagram itself, has gone through multiple permutations. Not only have two themes been added since the early days of Kenissa, but we began to do an exercise in which participants at our Consultations were invited to create their own graphic representations of Jewish life. You can find a sampling of those graphics below, accompanied by the “author’s name” and the commentary they wrote to accompany their graphic.

The process has been at least as important as the product. From its inception, the Kenissa initiative has believed that individual Jewish creativity must be encouraged and validated. The age when the design of the Jewish community was created by a handful of elites is over. We now live in an age of open-sourced, networked wisdom when ideas matter. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Each of the hundreds of organizations in the Kenissa Network represent a unique vision of what makes Jewish life “sacred”. Each has the potential to attract a constituency. Each is part of the unfolding beauty and depth of the Jewish tradition. And that is to be celebrated.



2020 Gallery of graphic representations of North American Jewish life by Kenissa Network members

Scroll forward to see all of the diagrams

2019 Gallery of graphic representations of North American Jewish life by Kenissa Network members

Scroll forward to see all of the diagrams

2018 Gallery of graphic representations of North American Jewish life by Kenissa Network members

Scroll forward to see all of the diagrams

Read a groundbreaking study by Dr. Tobin Belzer on the work of Kenissa

“Jewish Communal Transformation: A Look at What’s Happening and Who is Making it Happen”

Organizational Co-Sponsors