Category: Young Adults


…if we want real institutional change, all areas of the Jewish community should seek to foster young leadership. In every commencement speech, we hear youth described as our future. This is most certainly true, and, yet, Jewish organizations are loath to act on that dictum. The reason is obvious: No one wants to be usurped and declared redundant, so we hang on, in many cases, as long as possible, and keep the young aspirants for Jewish communal life at bay.

Edgar M. Bronfman and Beth Zasloff, Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 177.

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…let’s redirect funds used for fighting anti-Semitism toward Jewish renaissance programs. I have publicly stated that it is a waste of the Jewish tax dollar to spend so much money on so-called defense organizations. Anti-Semitism in this country is, for all practical purposes, dead. Yes, there are incidents, but we live in a racist world, and there will always be graffiti and random insults from deranged, sick people. They are a small minority.

Edgar M. Bronfman and Beth Zasloff, Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 175.

Traditional Jewish institutions must seek guidance from creative young leaders, and some have begun to do so. Young Jews are finding ways to be Jewish outside of traditional Jewish institutions, but that does not mean we have to battle for who controls Jewish life….
We need to cultivate this spirit of openness and exchange between new efforts and traditional Jewish institutions. Both are important for the renaissance. While there is exuberant energy outside the established Jewish community, there are tremendous financial, structural, and human resources in our large institutions. These resources can, and should, be used to educate and empower our youth. While change may happen more quickly in new efforts, existing organizations are capable of making a significant difference in Jewish life if they are willing to adapt to the conditions of the twenty-first century. They need to reach out to young people and invite their ideas and their leadership.

Edgar M. Bronfman and Beth Zasloff, Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 167-168.

The problem with the whole idea of “affiliated” and “unaffiliated” is that it depends on an outdated model for Jewish community. The fact that young Jews are not affiliating in the old-fashioned way indicates there is something wrong with our institutions, not that there is something wrong with our youth. We have to let go of old ways of defining what it means to be an involved Jew and look to the kind of involvement that young Jews themselves seek. It takes some imagination to understand that the decline of Jewish institutions does not necessarily mean the decline of Judaism. Our question should not be “How can we get unaffiliated Jews to affiliate?” but “How can we inspire young Jews to understand Judaism as important for their own lives and for the world?” We should not be concerned with keeping Jewish institutions alive, but with keeping Judaism alive.
Simply because young Jews are not involved in the same way that their elders were does not mean that they are completely disengaged from Jewish life. While they may stay away from synagogues or Jewish Community Centers, they are clearly interested in Judaism. … They want to be Jewish, but on their own terms, as well they should.

Edgar M. Bronfman and Beth Zasloff, Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 157-158.

While we focus on young adults who desire to impact the future of our communities, we lack meaningful ways for them to get involved. Many communities have shifted to support innovation and start-ups, but these new efforts can’t be the only way to engage for the future. Ultimately, the challenge of improving our leadership is not just about young adult involvement. Few of my own peers find enjoyment from traditional committees, even when they are committed to the organization and Jewish life.

Marci Mayer Eisen, “Where Did Our Farm Teams Go? Rethinking Committee Process“, eJewish Philanthropy (17 July 2013).

They don’t connect to these synagogues because there is no framework for them; synagogues are really structured for families. … Until they marry and have a family, they are trying to build a career, working long hours and maybe in graduate school. There are thousands of single young professionals between 22 and 35 who are not connected too much Jewishly.

I don’t blame the synagogues for not addressing this; synagogues look at them as transients and feel they often don’t pay membership. This is the Birthright generation that is used to getting everything for free. And in college, Hillel and Chabad give them free dinners.

Rabbi Perry Tirschwell quoted in Stewart Ain, “Vows to Serve The Young in Young Israel”, The Jewish Week (29 November 2013), 5.

Can Jewish leaders work together with this silent majority to overthrow the regnant approaches to intermarriage? And if so, how?

First and foremost, a more assertive approach to intermarriage would require the dignified acknowledgement by Jewish institutions that endogamous families are the Jewish ideal—the best hope for transmitting a strong identity to the next generation. Once this crucial premise is openly espoused, the next logical step is to invest heavily in intensive forms of Jewish education through the college years and in helping Jewish singles, including the “alumni” of this education, to meet each other. Our advanced technologies and the ease of contemporary travel offer unprecedented opportunities to bring American Jews together with their peers and to nurture stronger connections with the Jewish people globally.

Practically speaking, it makes sense, as the previous paragraph suggests, to focus less energy on courting already intermarried families—once an intermarriage has occurred, it is far more difficult for communal institutions to intervene—than on encouraging as many single Jews as possible to marry within the community. Birthright Israel serves as one model for such programs; many more initiatives like it are needed in the United States. Their message should be transparent: instead of being infantilized with assurances that no strings will ever be attached, younger Jews need to hear without equivocation why it is important to build Jewish families. And they must be told the truth: the American Jewish community is in a fight for its life, and the younger generation is expected to shoulder its share of responsibility.

Jack Wertheimer, “Intermarriage: Can Anything Be Done?Mosaic (September 2013).

Synagogues must serve a constituency broader than their current membership. I suggest that congregations set aside 5 percent of their budget to create an innovation fund offering mini grants to anyone, member or not, who wants to develop a new Jewish initiative.

The initiative should then be made available to both members and non-members in that congregation. The monthly Shabbat program mix is the ideal venue for the congregation to benefit from this investment. Equally important is that young people, who want to reinvent their Judaism, will feel supported by and increasingly appreciative of the sponsoring congregation. Right now, they are nowhere to be found on the synagogue landscape.

Rabbi Sid Schwarz, “Jump-starting a Synagogue Stimulus Plan”, The Jewish Week (22 November 2013), 29, 31.