Josh Furman hadn’t planned to be Seattle’s go-to guy for events for young Jewish adults, but sometimes life takes you on strange trips. Just ask the guy whose events as director of Jconnect, the program for 21–32-year-olds at Hillel at the University of Washington, have included a circus Purim and a Sodom and Gemorrah party.
“It’s a career that I love and it’s one of those jobs where I’m excited to wake up and do the work that I need to do,” Josh says.
But this natural-born planner didn’t start at the top. He began by making coffee at Hillel’s in-house café while still attending the UW.
“I was a business major as an undergrad, and I think I always was the type that leaned toward nonprofits,” Josh says.
He participated in one of the organization’s alternative spring breaks, which provide a week of social justice and volunteer opportunities in developing countries. Now he leads them.
“It’s really because of Rabbi Will’s mentorship,” says Josh of Will Berkovitz, Hillel’s former Greenstein Family Executive Director, who first saw Josh’s talents and hired him to work for the students’ organization. “He let my skills as an event planner really come out.”
Berkovitz, however, gives credit to Josh: “All I did was trust in him, and ask him questions, and stay out of the way,” Berkovitz says. “He’s got a gift, and frankly it’s up to our community to keep him engaged in the Jewish community in a leadership role and provide him the opportunities to be a leader.”
Though Berkovitz left Hillel a year ago, in some ways Josh is the bridge between its previous director and its new one, Rabbi Oren Hayon, who took over the position at the beginning of the month.
“His presence here and obviously the presence of the Jconnect program were major enticements to me,” Hayon says. “This is exactly the kind of programming that I think is the future of the Jewish community and is very close to my own personal, professional vision of my rabbinate.”
Galit Ezekiel, Hillel’s director of development, has watched Josh’s growth over the past several years.
“He’s outstanding at building relationships — just very engaging, friendly, welcoming,” she says. He “really makes people feel at home and welcomed, which is critical with young people.”
Josh gets plenty of pride from doing the big programs, usually focused around holidays, and says he always tries to provide educational opportunities within the fun activities. But for an organization that sponsors several events each week, sometimes it’s the small stuff that keeps people coming back.
“During my time here I’ve seen people meet and get engaged, I’ve seen people who’ve become Orthodox, I’ve seen people who’ve come and embrace their Judaism” in other ways, Josh says. “It’s a chance to connect and find something meaningful to them.”
Josh, 27, spent most of his early years in Portland, growing up in a family that was very progressive and very connected to that city’s Jewish community.
“My family always modeled Jewish not continuity but community — you always had family around you,” he says.
Part of that came from Josh’s grandparents, both of them Holocaust survivors, on his father’s side. They put an emphasis on community that
filtered through the family.
“There’s definitely a sense of what your community can do and how it can support each other,” he says.
He has taken those early lessons to heart in his career, even if he sometimes forgets to step back and look at his part in a program that has survived an ever-changing community with ever-changing needs for more than a decade. It’s with that in mind that even when he was asked for nominations for the 10 Under 40 honorees, he was surprised that people would recommend him.
“Sometimes you don’t expect it when you work in the Jewish world, just because you’re doing all these programs and you see so many people who are amazing and you don’t put yourself in that context,” he says.