Suzanne Dryan Felson: Millennials are desperately looking for meaning

"Older generations often think of Millennials as flighty and flaky. They are not. Millennials often think of Judaism as foreign, archaic, and not meaningful. It is not."

Suzanne Dryan Felson shares her story of delving deeply into the world of Millennial Jews, and explains why Millennials are ready to pick up the torch of Jewish knowledge and tradition, if it is delivered to them differently.

#5 in a series of Funder Stories videos produced in partnership with ELI Talks. JFN members recorded these personal stories about what giving means in their lives at the JFN 2019 International Conference.


What do you think Jewish philanthropy can teach the rest of the world today?

  • Judaism is the most amazing religion in the world. It not only encourages us to think critically and to constantly ask questions, it demands it of us and we have an obligation to give back.
  • We are mandated to ask questions and not to accept things passively.
  • The Torah actually teaches that we should explore everything, that we should not accept anything at face value, and that we should turn everything on its head.
  • The writers of the Torah and the commentators were the first entrepreneurs. They didn't accept the status quo.
  • The Torah is a living breathing text that has evolved with every generation.
  • Judaism has always reinvented itself to meet the needs of each generation.

One thing you wish non-funders would know about the work you do:

That Judaism provides the context to transform secular moments into sacred living.

Your foundation:

Etrog Fund #1 (San Francisco)

How long has the foundation existed?

20 years

The foundation's mission:

An etrog is a citrus fruit from a beautiful tree. It looks like a bumpy lemon, but it is sweet inside. It’s one of the 4 plants – Arbah Minim – that are mentioned in the Torah related to the observance of the holiday, Sukkot. The Arbah Minim are: 1. Etrog, 2. Lulav (palm branch), 3. Aravot (willow branches), and 4. Hadassim (myrtle twigs). Some say the Arbah Minim represent different parts of our bodies and this guides our philanthropy. The long straight palm branch is the spine and reminds us to stand with a tall spine – or stand up for our convictions. The willow leaf is shaped like our mouth and reminds us to speak with integrity. The myrtle leaf is oval like our eyes and reminds us to see clearly. The etrog represents our hearts and reminds us that we must give from our hearts. Jewish tradition teaches that we should bring all parts of our body together to do good things in the world.
ETROG: the name of our funds guides us on this path.

Communities that the foundation serves:

U.S. and Israel

Main issues you fund:

I stand at the intersection between the secular world and Judaism and I bring Jewish content front and center. My philosophy of funding is “Disruptive Funding of Knowledge,” which means I layer deep Jewish content into secular environments and spaces that are already being disrupted and thinking out of the box to transform them into deeply meaningful Jewish spaces.