A 2008 article in The Boston Globe said it well: “American Judaism has a boy problem…After several thousand years in which women were relegated to the sidelines of worship and community leadership, scholars and denominational leaders now say that women are significantly outnumbering men in numerous key segments of non-Orthodox Jewish community life.” (“Where have all the men gone?” As the role of women increases in Judaism, questions swirl about a gender imbalance. By Michael Paulson, June 22, 2008)
The article continued, “At the Reform movement’s seminary, 60 percent of the rabbinical students and 84 percent of those studying to become cantors are female. Girls are outnumbering boys by as much as 2 to 1 among adolescents in youth group programs and summer camps, while women outnumber men at worship and in a variety of congregational leadership roles, according to the Union for Reform Judaism.”
A 2008 Brandeis study called “Gender Imbalance in American Jewish Life” concluded that non-Orthodox males seem to drop out of Jewish life after Bar Mitzvah. According to Sylvia Barack Fishman, a professor of contemporary Jewish life at Brandeis University and the coauthor of the study, “American Jewish boys and men have fewer connections to Jews and Judaism in almost every venue and in every age, from school-age children through the adult years. Contemporary liberal American Judaism, although supposedly egalitarian, is visibly and substantially feminized.”
In a recent issue of The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin wrote a cover story, “The End of Men,” in which she chronicled the growing influence of women, and the subsequent shrinking influence of men. Rosin argued through statistics on employment trends, educational success and even the growing desire for female babies that the XXers are the gender of the future, and that patriarchy is yesterday’s news.
An item in From the Rib: Thoughts on Progressing Jewish Feminism called “The Shifting Gender Paradigm” took a different approach. According to the article, “If the paradigm of the provider, the hunter, the dominant one is past, men have to generate another paradigm that is liberated from patriarchal weight. Women should be proud of the advances that [they] have made in Judaism. However, as women’s roles change, men’s roles must also. As men are no longer expected to play the dominant role, they have to come to terms with the idea of ‘equal, but different,’ and create a new identity for themselves.”
What works in keeping a women’s organization going may not be effective in maintaining a men’s organization. There are different reasons why men get together and stay together. There are different ways of drawing men and women out to a function. The problem is more of a gender issue than a Jewish one, say some experts. The question is what to do about it.
“Women’s and men’s organizations function differently,” explained Phil Waldman, a longtime Orange County Jewish community activist and the 2013 Mensch of the Year honoree of the Jewish Federation and Family Services’ Solomon Society. “Men like business and networking, while women are more likely to talk about what’s going on in their lives.”
According to Waldman, “Men look at organizations differently than women. It’s a different dynamic, and it’s not as touchy-feely. Men enjoy events that involve sports, food and drink. They talk about sports while women talk about relationships.
Waldman acknowledged that today’s man is not necessarily the primary breadwinner and that there are often shared responsibilities in a family. However, men know what they want to do when they get together as a group, and it may be very different from what women like to do.
“People look at the social dynamic of organizations and think it needs to be fixed, but members may be opposed to changing it,” he said.
On the other hand, a whole new dynamic may be needed. Women’s Philanthropy, the female philanthropic and fundraising arm of JFFS, has been highly successful. How could a men’s organization succeed?
It began with some young leaders – Sam Wyman and Craig Barbarosh – putting together a business trip to Israel to get trading partners, according to Michael Stoll, one of the participants. “The twenty guys who went became like family although nobody had been looking at this as a way to make friends,” he said. “I went to my father and wanted him to do the same. Then I brought some more friends and we decided to hang out together.”
David Stoll, Michael’s father, who had been a fundraiser for almost 50 years, did get involved, and then, he said, “The Solomon Society took on a life of its own. It filled a void. It’s about raising money, having a good time and Jew helping Jew.”
“At its core the Solomon Society is a brotherhood that’s helping people and helping the community,” Michael Stoll said. “It’s a community building vehicle where men of all ages from all over the county and every kind of worship practice are proud to be members and help each other just because they’re friends.”
David Stoll added, “Belonging to a synagogue and being active in JFFS are like apples and oranges, because JFFS helps a variety of community organizations and synagogues benefit too. The Solomon Society is an asset for entrepreneurs and professional people, because the connections are tremendous, but more than that, we’re one big chavurah.”
The organization holds an annual event called Late Night with the Solomon Society with a dinner and big-name comedic entertainment. While that event draws hundreds of people, many Solomon Society events are much smaller and designed specifically for people to meet new people. There are four or five “supper clubs” per year with 20 people at a time meeting in a restaurant or private home. There are also four golf outings per year, specifically matching people who don’t know each other. There is also a mentoring night at UCI where men in various professions speak to the students.
The Solomon Society has worked so well that there are inquiries from all over the country about how other communities can go and do likewise. Solomon Societies have been started in Long Beach, Palm Springs, Las Vegas, Arizona, Connecticut and New Jersey. “You can’t always duplicate a successful formula, because we have a really special group of people,” Michael Stoll said. “Still it’s really flattering to be asked to be a role model for so many places in the country.”
According to Waldman, “When the Stolls began the Solomon Society, it was serendipitous. People were involved, but their relatives were not. Then the word began to spread. It was like dropping a pebble into a pond. The ripple effect has been fantastic.”
About Late Night with
Solomon’s Society’s event of the year for Jewish men in Orange County is Thursday, October 10, at the City National Grove of Anaheim. Men of all ages are invited to join the group for cocktails, cuisine and comedy for a cause, with this year’s headliner, acclaimed comedienne Sarah Silverman and MC Elon Gold. There will be special recognition to the Mensch of the Year, Phil Waldman, and much more, including camaraderie, outstanding food and “l’chaims”! The website enourages men to “be a part of something amazing and make a real difference.”
For more details, contact email@example.com or (949) 435-3484.
About Phil Waldman
Phil Waldman’s motto is “if not me, who?” He enjoys philanthropic work, “seeing the good that we do and seeing its influential effect on the Jewish community.” He began his community involvement when his children were at Morasha Day School, met various people involved on what was then the Jewish Federation of Orange County (now Jewish Federation & Family Services), joined the JFFS board and continues to serve on it.
Waldman is a role model of humility, Jewish values, leadership, philanthropy and service, making a real difference in the Orange County community and in Israel. He is the immediate past chairman of the Jewish Federation & Family Services (JFFS) Board, as well as a member of JFFS’ Planning & Funding Council and the Connect 2 Israel Committee.
An active member and volunteer of Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot, Waldman also serves as the president of the Orange County Board of Jewish National Fund. He is also a past president of Morasha Day School. By his example, Phil teaches others to live a life in which every good deed makes a difference. Jewish Federation & Family Services’ Solomon Society is honored and proud to name Phil Waldman this year’s Mensch of the Year.
According to Michael Stoll, one of the chairs of the Solomon Society, “We’re fortunate that we have to have a committee to choose the Mensch of the Year. So many guys have done so much that it’s hard to make a decision. The Mensch of the Year is someone who has really made a difference. Phil gets into the trenches and makes things happen.”
About the Solomon Society
According to its website, “The Solomon Society is the place for every Jewish man in Orange County. It is a fellowship of men who inspire each other through their values and actions.
Solomon Society is where you can enjoy camaraderie through social events and programs with speakers who are opinion leaders and policy makers, missions to Israel and the Jewish world, meaningful volunteer projects and so much more. It’s where you can make an investment that matters – an investment in our Jewish community. Each member makes a minimum philanthropic investment of $1,000 to Federation in his own name as a statement of personal responsibility for Jews in need at home and abroad. The collective power of Solomon Society’s philanthropic investments changes lives in Orange County, Israel and around the world.”
The website continues, “Considered the wisest of all men, King Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem. He is recognized as one of the greatest leaders of the Jewish people, a source of wisdom on religious, judicial and national matters. He was a skilled communicator whose Biblical writings have inspired millions throughout the ages. Today, inspired by the example of King Solomon, generations of Jewish men in Orange County have a new opportunity to fuel their passion for community building, and affirm their compassion for our people, through the Solomon Society.”
Through the Generations Fund of Jewish Federation & Family Services, the Solomon Society helps families in crisis, children at risk and Jewish seniors. Each member makes a minimum philanthropic investment of $1,000 to JFFS in his own name, as a statement of personal responsibility for Jews in need at home and abroad. This investment is at work right now, providing emergency resources for the unemployed and families in crisis, assistance for senior adults and Holocaust survivors, leadership development for students and young adults, Jewish educational opportunities, support for Jews in Israel and around the world and operating support for the Bureau of Jewish Education, Hillel, Jewish Family Services, the Merage JCC, Hebrew Academy and Tarbut V’Torah.