Ha’aretz 6/11/12 (full version here)
I belong to a generation much under scrutiny at the moment. We millennials, as we are called by the demographers, are vital in the upcoming US Presidential election. In 2008 President Obama carried us 66/33 and for the first time the youth outvoted the seniors. Our profile that marketers like to generate show a generation interested in social action and justice, progressive and wanting to invest to ensure a better tomorrow.
The US political campaigns are not the only people interested in tapping into our generation at the moment however. In the Jewish World there has been a long fought struggle by the establishment to try and integrate the new generation into Jewish communal life and giving.
I am lucky enough to have lived in both the UK and US Jewish communities (the former for much longer then the latter mind you). On both sides of the Atlantic there is a focus on training up and reaching the next generation. Our responses to this outreach fall within three categories.
We have the disinterested masses that see this effort of outreach as part of the normal background noise of living in society today. There is no connection between the community they live in and the things that are needed for it to survive.
Secondly we have those who are on-boarded by this outreach. The community succeeds in reaching out to a new generation and helping them establish their place and role within their own community. In the UK some great examples of these efforts are the Adam Science Foundation and Reclaim the Board activities. In Boston the entire floor of the Youth Leadership Division by the Jewish Federation here is astounding.
Lastly we have those who while aware of the efforts that the community is making, sits back and lampoons them for not doing enough to make space for them in the community. This category within my generation often has had one positive experience within a Jewish framework, which they expect to be replicated in every other interaction with the community. When the reality of machinery of the Jewish community is revealed to them, they mock the system operators of the community for not having the tools to engage them and then walk away.
With the change in generations and types of giving there are hundreds of challenging questions that need to be answered. They revolve around issues of federation vs fragmentation, lay leadership and philanthropy, supporting segments of a community with welfare services that choose not to contribute, the challenge of funding Jewish education.
We rightly demand to be included in these discussions yet the fact remains that those who show up make decisions.
The Jewish communal establishments, on both sides of the Atlantic, are anything but perfect. Yet they are trying to reach out. This effort needs to be recognized and responded to by the millennial generation rather then mocked or simply ignored. We grew up with some sort of framework that was accessible to us through our local synagogues, schools, Jewish Communal Centers or youth movements. By ignoring or mocking, we segregate ourselves away from the decisions that will affect our children and those around us. We put our hope that others will answer the call of communal service as we were too sardonic or bored to do so ourselves.
So in this election cycle as we are courted by for our votes and told that we matter and are vital for the future of the country, we would do well to remember that our involvement in our communities matters more now, in these turbulent times, then it ever has before.