40 Plus and Screwed: More on Less Young Adult Engagement

Building a sustainable community can’t be just about paying for buses full of young people in hopes they will make Jewish babies.

by Michal Kohane

You might ascribe the following comments to my advanced age, shifting moods, raging hormones. I admit. I am not a “young adult” by any current official definition of the term. At the same time, 4 of my 6 children are still in that age bracket, so I do have a vested interest in their Jewish connectedness, and anything we do in that realm of “young adult engagement”.

I started writing this piece a while back but doubting its political correctness, (yes, and my moods), left it. Then last week, I sat at yet another meeting and someone, proudly sharing all the young adult activities their organization features in a big, respectful Jewish community, said to me, “And after 40? What can I tell you. After 40 you’re screwed”.

And I have had it.

I’ve had it with the constant song and dance around “young adult engagement” as the only promise of any Jewish life anywhere ever at all. I know, I know. How dare I. Look at Birthright. Look at Masa. Look at the service opportunities programs. Look at so many groups swarming the Land every summer. Look at the grants, requests, waiting lists! Don’t you know what research shows? Didn’t you read the studies? Here, let me show you the numbers.

Yes, I have seen it. In fact, some of these programs have been directly or indirectly run from my office. I’ve sat in countless meetings trying to figure out new, innovative strategies and solutions to just these challenges I am deeply aware of and genuinely care about. And yet, I‘ve had it.

I’ve had it with smug young people who bring little to the table short of age, whose presence leaves no room for anyone else, and the fact that they are 20 some, or 30 some does not make it cute. And surprise! Contrary to some belief, clueless dinosaurs did not roam the earth a few decades ago. There was always promise in young age. That is nothing new. But there was always more. It seems that now we have lost the “more”.

We. Yes, “we”, the “older generation”, we who placate to those younger than us and still willing to glance at us, say hi to us, never mind respond to our nagging – begging repeated requests and reluctantly agree to sit on one of our prestigious boards. We, who like young parents, bend over the carriage, cooing and making stupid faces, and when we chance a smile, just melt. We, who wait like an obedient puppy with a leash in our mouth, unable to contain the wagging tail. Oh, how wonderful it is that someone half or quarter of our age might take us out for a walk so finally we can see a glimpse of “the real world”! We, who wrote ourselves out of relevancy.

Time magazine just recently called the milennials “narcissistic, overconfident, entitled and lazy”, and you know what? I can live with it that young people are a little self-centered, a little self-focused. Also contrary to some belief (and anyone’s memory), we were like this too! It’s impossible not to. It’s what makes one travel from childhood to adulthood, from a narrow “me” to a greater “us”. What is not ok is that we let them stay there; that we allow this to become our ideal, our new god we bow down to.

Now, don’t get me wrong: being 26 or 36 is great fun. Then again, so is being six. Or 66, provided you have good health, good care and – let us not ignore – a good attitude. The rest is up for grabs. I know a 99 year old man with a witty sparkle in his eyes and a sharp mind that many 19 year olds would – and should – envy. I know 20 some and 30 some who seem more misplaced, tired and lifeless than my dead ancestors.

Because one can be young and hammered by the realities of low job opportunities, mortgage, relationships with spouse, children, parents. And one can be “old”, and much freer, able and available, professionally and spiritually, with lots of energy, insight, wisdom and knowledge about life, but guess what. If that’s who you are, the Jewish people don’t need you anymore. Oh, wait, I’m exaggerating. They do need you. You’re welcome to pay dues. And memberships. And support the never-ending campaigns. And we will call on our various phonathons, because young people need to party. And travel. And explore their identity. And you? you’re already 50, maybe even 60. Seriously? You haven’t been to Israel?? and you still date?? But that’s one leg in the World to Come! So we are not going to invest in you. Please, step aside, and hand over the keys. And your check book? Thanks. Because that is the only role we left you. You are “40 plus and – therefore – screwed”.

Yes, I’m exaggerating, but not much. At a recent meeting about the millennia generation, someone – over 45 – dared ask, what can any of us, “alter kakers”, do. Alter Kakers by the way is not a nice thing to say, but no one corrected the derogatory term. One “millennia child” answered quickly: “You can listen”, he said. Another joked: “there is really nothing you can do”. The audience nodded with pride.

And I sat there wondering.

We, the People who brought to the world “honor your mother and father”, “glorify the elderly” and “rise (in respect) before the aged”; We who value life as a long journey of endless growth and learning, honored in all its stages; We who speak about each person like a whole world, and each member of the community as a critical part of the puzzle; We who teach about Abraham, hearing God and traveling to a promised land when he was 75; Moses and Rabbi Akiva, finding Judaism in their 40’s and mastering it in their 80’s; We, who have an 89 year old youthful, forward-thinking Israeli president; what happened to us? when did we sell all these eternal, G-d given values and buy into the youth worshipping, giddy culture around us, placing money and chutzpa before wisdom, respect and kindness?

Over Pesach we read about Rabbi Azaria, one of the heros of the Hagadda: “Behold I am like a 70 year old”, he says. “Like” a 70 year old? The commentaries teach us that he was appointed as head of the Sanhedrin at a very young age, and a miracle happened: overnight his hair became white so he looked elderly and distinguished, thus gaining respect among his peers, most of them older than him in decades.

But we are living in a society that assigns old people to old people’s home, which often look worse, smell worse and are budgeted less than our prisons. We equate old age with lack of productivity, because we equate productivity with materialistic actions and achievements. We’ve been told we should all look “forever 21”, and we can’t get enough of it. When we grow up, we want to look like our kids! And what should our kids aspire to look like when they grow up?

It’s time to reverse the spiral and create a much more holistic story with a more comprehensive agenda. We should introduce programs based on content, not age, where all those participating realize the value of each person around the table; where people are not assigned “mentorship roles” by the color of the hair or the amount of wrinkles they haven’t had a chance – or the financial means – to get ironed, but rather, by what they contribute to the conversation. There should be opportunities for meetings, traveling, partying and yes, dating for those over 50, and there should be Birthright for those over 50 who never went to Israel before. It’s their birthright too.

Building a sustainable community can’t be just about paying for buses full of young people in hopes they will make Jewish babies. If anyone offered me a free trip to Germany, where my parents came from, I’d take it, and I’m sure I’d have a great time. I might even fall in love with a blonde-blue-eyed handsome German, but will that ensure my German identity? I so hope our conversation with our young adults can be deeper than that. Because don’t think they can’t see through our gimmicks. After all, we know how smart and wonderful they are, and they know that, once again, we’re trying to buy them. Like we did when we wanted them to get on the potty, or do homework, or come home early, or get the car, and even they, yes, “even they” want more than that.

We need to be what we’ve always been: a family. A whole family. We need to make sure the babies we want have respected, active, well-integrated grandparents, uncles, aunts, and nowadays, great-grandparents too.

Above all – we need to leave our young adults with a clear message, that after 40 – you’re not screwed, because they too, like us, will reach that noble old age one day, and they should know that Jewish life isn’t over then; in fact, we’ve only just begun.

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  1. says

    “Building a sustainable community can’t be just about paying for buses full of young people in hopes they will make Jewish babies.” – great line. Well said.

  2. Bob Hyfler says

    Thank you. An important overdue statement spoken by a member of a generation that learned through its dreams and life struggles that the world is there to be changed for the better and the inclusion of all.

    I’m reminded of a similarly heartfelt line in Arthur Miller’s play “Death of A Salesman”: “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away -a man is not a piece of fruit”.

  3. David Posner says

    It’s only when you believe that you have nothing more to learn in this world that you become truly “old.” Failing that, no matter the chronological age, investment by the Jewish community in anyone who believes that they have what to learn and contribute yields positive and measurable results.

  4. David Harris says

    I’m sad to read such an article that had such potential to get at the heart of building a communal conversation about engaging multiple generations in Jewish life, but have it really be an article describing the disappointment of (and overall generalization of) the millennial generation.

    I can understand the argument of how those in the “Young Adult” space appear entitled; we do have that whole Birthright thing to placate that notion. That being said, has there ever been thought given to the possibility that many in the millennial generation have to be begged to sit on boards (by the way, not THAT prestigious) because for so long, the young adults in today’s Jewish world didn’t (and don’t) see the value in sitting on a board where those in the older generation’s consistently complain and don’t really do anything.

    Have you ever heard the phrase, “A little less talk, a lot more action”? Millennials want to get their hands dirty, they want to be involved in decisions, and they want those decisions to matter. As a young adult, why would I want to get involved with your organization? It sounds like you don’t want me involved. It’s fine by me; I’ll take my great ideas and passion for shaping the future of the Jewish community (which by the way isn’t a bad thing) and take it somewhere else.

    Now as for your point about a 50+ Birthright type trip, I totally understand that; in fact I suggested it not too long ago. What may need to happen is a low barrier trip, that does include some cost – there are missions and other similar trips like that out there. I do think that you are grossly off base when you say that “building a sustainable community can’t be just about paying for buses full of young people in hopes they will make Jewish babies”.

    I have sent hundreds of students on Birthright, a handful have even got married from those trips and yes, they will (hopefully) have Jewish babies, but how can you pose that as Birthright’s mission? The trip is about exposing young people to the wonders of Israel, from the 5-10 day mifgash with Israeli soldiers to experiencing Shabbat in Jerusalem the trip is about connecting young Jewish people to Israel so that they may carry that connection into adulthood.

    Your generation didn’t need that because you were growing up at a time when Israel was at the forefront of your collective Jewish identity. For Millennials, that experience of establishing the Jewish homeland doesn’t exist.

    I applaud your desire to integrate the generations and just wish the tone of your message was more positive as opposed to slamming millennials for being entitled and not offering anything of substance. You can’t build a community with that attitude.

  5. Lauren Brownstein says

    I’m so grateful that this sentiment is finally being widely expressed… and I’m not the only one who has been thinking it! I have worked in the Jewish community for many years, and in my 20s and 30s I was very involved in Jewish life in my city. Now that I’m over 40, single, and without children (and do not have deep enough pockets to be a major donor), the community could not care less about me. Could. Not. Care. Less. My efforts to create a focus on 40+ Jewish singles have (1) fallen on deaf ears, or (2) gotten a response of “Well, we need to get you married!” Ugh. The Jewish Community loses so much wisdom, energy, and potential when we focus on one age cohort to the exclusion of others.

  6. Sherri Morr says

    Here Hear to being politically incorrect. Finally someone speaking the truth and raising the right issues/connections. I do think you left out issues of younger generations lining up to help in Uganda, but not so intersected in areas more close to home like baby boomers who have to ration food-Jewish and not Jewish. Or educating young people more about the Holocaust so they do not see it as sheep to slaughter. Send them to see “The Roundup” Or loving technology and new ideas but not seeing Israel as so interesting or worthy of investment because its just not sexy or neuvo. Ok that’s my rant on politically incorrectness.

  7. says

    I’m reminded of a piece I wrote years ago titled Reach out to the Affiliated. I totally agree and I’m tired of all the startup projects where you have to be under 35 or 40 as if people over 40 don’t startup good projects. I started an NPO in Jerusalem 6 years ago and I’m doing interesting and innovative work at a level that I didn’t have the time or maturity to do when I was younger. Why can’t we value that? Kind of like how I feel about people with disabilities and labels – let’s help them based on needs and not based on label. Kol Ha’kavod.

  8. Rachel says

    Beautifully expressed. Poignantly true. Stunningly brave. Of course, the relentless focus on youth is not particular to the Jewish community – it’s an ailment that afflicts our entire society (try being 40+ and in the job market). While it would be nice if it were otherwise, why should Jews be any different?

  9. says

    Congregation B’nai Tzedek would like to invite anyone in the Greater DC area, in their 40s, who feel disengaged from the community, to join us for a conversation on Sunday, July 14 @ 4 pm in Bethesda. To get the exact location, email akatz@bnaitzedek.org. Come tell us what would make you feel great about being involved in the Jewish community and lets develop a plan!

  10. Margalit C. Rosenthal says

    The conversation surrounding spending more time investing in the 45+ demographic is not new, and I think it should be brought to the forefront. This article asserts unconditionally that the focus on young adults has resulted in the sacrifice of older demographics. While this may or may not be accurate (in terms of financial investment and time invested in personal relationships and programming), this article does not suggest increasing investment in older demographics to find an equillibrium. Rather, even in title, it suggests retaliating by having “less young adult engagement.” Does one need to be less for the other to be more? Much of what is written strays from a Jewish communal focus and rather, emphasizes the “smugness” and “entitlement” of young people in general, a stereotype of an entire generation. Generalizing what young adult engagement is and saying that 50 year olds need “partying” too conveys a misunderstanding of what it is professionals like me are trying to do.

    Ignoring the argumentative tone and fighting words, there are two key issues that I see that are really at play. One, the need for increased capacity and investment for creative engagement for the 45+ demographic who are still in need of Jewish meaning and activity in their lives (which organizations like the Institute for Jewish Spirituality are trying to do with programs like Wise Aging). Two, there needs to be broader understanding that the investment in young adult engagement is not always about the actual age, but rather more about method, process, tactics, strategy. We are living in a vastly different world culturally, technologically, and financially than 40 years ago. The way we connect, create relationships, understand community, and create identity has shifted. We are living in an an environment of increasing uncertainty about what the future will hold. The focus on young adult engagement is as much about identifying future challenges and finding solutions for 50 years from now as it is about getting a 30 year old to feel engaged in their current community.

    Is that all there is to it? Absolutely not. But I think as a community we will benefit from a collaborative approach to these issues, coming to the table with understanding and respect, instead of entitlement and complaints.

  11. Guest says

    Heard from staff at the JCF that today will be the author’s last day at the organization. Assuming it’s because of this post.

  12. says

    Thank you for the article. This is a really great point. In New York, UJA-Federation has been looking at this issue, and we’ve developed an innovative approach to fill the gap. This coming fall we will be launching a new, signature initiative EngAGE: The Jewish Service Corps for Grown-ups.

    EngAGE will capitalize on the strengths and talents of older adults, and will give them the opportunity to address issues they care deeply about: poverty, hunger, joblessness, and more. EngAGE volunteers throughout the New York area will become part of a community of likeminded people committed to understanding the issues affecting the Jewish community and finding a Jewish way to address them.

    We are very excited about this new initiative targeting the precise group of vital Jews you speak about. They have so much to offer our community!

  13. David says

    It’s wonderful that this piece has generated such thoughtful discussion. Healthy debate is how ideas evolve and progress is made. What’s not so wonderful is that the author seems to have lost her job as a result of expressing her opinions.

  14. says

    Kudos to Michal Kohane for raising the mostly silent issue of ageism in the Jewish community. Our institutions and funders have been so exclusively focused on reaching out the the YOUNG that they have failed to engage, inspire, motivate and tap the abundant talent and energy of those at midlife and beyond. May this conversation bear fruit in new initiatives and fresh creative effort!

  15. Tamar Beneli says

    Brilliantly written! Here are my 2 cents: I will no longer support the JCF since it has proven to me that they do not represent me, nor do they respect me, presumably because I am over the age of … and because of their actions following the publication of this article.

  16. DR. LURIA says

    Very sad to hear that the author, Michal Kohane, was possibly laid off because of this article. Where do we live? what happened to the ‘freedom of speech’ in this country?
    Very very sad day for democracy…

  17. Dan Brown says

    We must ask, why is it that our organizations cannot accept criticism? Why is it that our largest organizations behave vindictively towards anyone – employees, lay leaders, the media – that say anything critical of any initiative or policy? Are their CEO egos so fragile? Are their missions so questionable that some behave like the worst dictatorships in history?

    more at: http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-cost-of-criticism/

  18. says

    It’s too easy to wrap up a bunch of different phenomena in the single narrative called “ALL THE JEWISH COMMUNITY CARES ABOUT IS YOUNG PEOPLE.” If you’re talking about Federation, you are fundamentally talking about an organization that raises money. What it cares about are donors. Big donors, really. And somewhere along the line federations realized that unless they did something drastic, the donor base would age and their children and grandchildren wouldn’t give. And with a shrinking donor base, the organized Jewish community wouldn’t be able to offer the services they historically have offered. That’s the “Continuity Crisis” in a nutshell. Did the organized Jewish community over-correct? Perhaps. But don’t confuse the valuing of potential future donors for valuing youth. If you (like me) are over 40 and you feel like there is little programming aimed at you, its probably because you aren’t at a high enough giving level. And you’re too old to be seen as a POTENTIAL donor any more. You must not have been working on the fundraising side of federation, or all of the above should have been obvious to you.

  19. Andy Shapiro Katz says

    I just read more about your professional background. You’ve been an Executive Director of a Federation. That makes your take on things that much more surprising.

  20. says

    I am reminded long ago ( about 35 years ago) when we lived in Lexington Kentucky , early in our 20’s and students at the University. The Federation invited my (now) husband to go to Israel on a mission. We explained that we had no money and could not make a significant gift. They said ” We will invest in you now, and know that some time in the future, maybe not even in Lexington, you will give back to the Jewish community.” We will never forget that, and have been “giving back” all our adult lives. Day schools, synagogues, Federations, professional Jewish careers, etc .have encompassed our adult lives. I now run a wonderful adult engagement program called Chai Mitzvah.
    Here is the catch… the gift was glorious and generous… my husband had never been to Israel, and it made a tremendous impression on him…but we did understand that we were not entitled to this gift… and that there was ordinarily an expectation that such a “gft” came with some obligations, both financial and other. However, the Lexington Jewish Federation was brilliant. I have never forgotten their largess, and their belief in their investment in us.
    We must get back to civility and reality… Judaism is a treasured inheritance… we should not shy away from the discussion of the give and take of largess and responsibility.
    Audrey Lichter
    Executive Director of Chai Mitzvah

  21. Kate says

    This article is articulate, passionate, and right on the money. Kol hakavod for your bravery and sharp writing. I hope it spurs many more of us – myself included – to vibrant action.

  22. Jessica Lowenthal says

    I was incredibly disappointed when I first read this article but wanted to wait and see the comments before I put down my thoughts. My sadness has only increased while reading that so many people share the author’s thoughts and frustrations.

    Thoughtful and fulfilling engagement in Jewish life should never be for only one demographic. For a long time, one could only be involved with larger communal organizations if you could donate a substantial amount of money, obviously targeting the “over 40” population, many of whom have sustainable careers in place. Andy recognized the “over correction” of that issue, which should be considered, but I do not believe that is the overall problem.

    I have been bred into the Jewish communal world and have bought into Jewish engagement since I was young. I have been an “insider” for my whole life, and have often seen resources go specifically to those “unaffiliated” or “uninvolved” youth. This is what I see as the biggest problem: how do organizations maintain their relationships with existing donors and members, while effectively engaging other populations.

    This article tries to blame young adult engagement for organizational failures. It is detrimental to the entire community to group “millennia’s” together and generalize them as bringing “little to the table short of age”. It says much more about the type of nominations your specific organization is allowing, rather than the entire generation of hard working people.

    Jewish communal life is changing for many reasons, and the majority of boards (made up of primarily the “over 40” crowd) are growing older with little prospects of new donors. Why is this? It is not because birthright has corrupted our youth into thinking that everything should be given to them. It is because those who would have been younger donors do not buy into the old systems. Young adults do not want to sit at a board meeting and hear about the good work being done on their behalf. They want to do the work, see the beneficiaries, and know exactly where their money is going.

    The Jewish communal world is going through a transition. We have to find a reason to stay involved in the Jewish community, not because an outside force is threatening us but because there is something inherently important and worthwhile in being Jewish. Our synagogues have been dealing with this for years, and we should not be surprised the communal world is facing this question as well. Jewish engagement cannot be only for those with enough money to sit on a board, nor can it be for only those under a certain age.

    I challenge the communal workers to take a good look at your organization. Are you sheparding your existing members as well as the new additions? Are there programs that are interesting to multiple populations? Are you bringing your members together, regardless of age? Have you considered a mentorship program to connect your populations together? Rather than blaming one population or one focus, let’s try and find solutions that benefit the entire community.

  23. Rob says

    Why do Orthodox synagogues have fully engaged 40-somethings? Because they offer the ultimate Jewish “programming”… Jewish communal life centered around Torah, mitzvos, ritual, and learning that gives 40-somethings (and others) a place and reason to belong and feel welcome. All it takes an open mind, instead of classic retorts such as “I’m not that religious” (so, become more religious!) and “But that means I can’t go out Friday nights” (no, you CAN go out… go sing and ance at shul, dine and drink with friends at Shabbos tables). Live a Jewish life, or live a non-Jewish life. The choice is yours.

  24. Jessica Lowenthal says

    I would suggest that Orthodox synagogues have a fully engaged young adult population because they treat everyone, regardless of age, as a necessary part of the Jewish community. Rather than treating young adults as children who need to be coddled or hand-held in order to do anything, traditional synagogues and communities often assume that young adults will give as good as they get. Empowerment is a key issue, that we often talk about in the communal world but rarely succeed at.

  25. Amanda Solomon says

    This is a very interesting and important point..but what if there were some more open-minded, more culturally aware young people who agreed with this point? What if those individuals wanted to be proactive and help create this space in which these Jewish individuals could empower themselves and live a Jewishly fulfilling adultood? Would those young people be taken seriously?

  26. says

    I totally TOTALLY and unequivocally disagree with this article. We need to spend our time and energy trying to “speak the language” of the next generation because (*newsflash*) the new generation is different than the generations that came before and has had to grow up with a whole different set of experiences. Yes, due to various factors the new generation has been less engaged, but that doesn’t mean that we, as Jewish professionals and leaders should miss our opportunity to come up with NEW models (some of which are really amazing) and a new Jewish community vocabulary to meet this generation where they are and bring them back in a way that makes sense in their own context.

  27. says

    To my point, when I graduated from college in December 2000, I took a job in central NJ and was ALONE. There was nothing to engage young professionals in Jewish life, NO Moishe House, NO MASA, NO Tribefest, heck, Birthright was just invented and still a grand experiment. I visited a synagogue my first Shabbat in town and everyone ignored me, so I never went back. I’m so impressed with how far we have come as a community in the past 13 years. Let’s not forget how far we have come!

  28. Jessica Lowenthal says

    I would suggest that many young people already have begun creating that space. We are seeing inclubators and start-ups focused on Jewish life and learning outside of the synagogue and outside of the mainstream. Look at the amazing organizations that are funded by Slingshot; a large majority of them are powered by young adults.

    I think there are many areas where young adults are treated the same as any other adult, but not often in the mainstream organizations. Many young adults have not been accepted in those organizations, or cannot find their place in them (especially without money) and have become active in smaller but more responsive groups.

    The reason that so many syngaogues struggle with active young adult engagement is a bit different that mainstream organizations, by virture of the major difference in roles that the two play. In order to revitalize the synagogue movement, we need to look at Jewish education and hebrew school programs. Why do so many people walk away from synagogues after they turn 13? Because they hated hebrew school and couldn’t wait to get out. It is often when those people have their own children that they even entertain the idea of joining a synagogue.

    Obviously, there are so many issues in so many areas. I look forward to continuing these conversations because this is where the change will occur. Rather than blaming others or pointing fingers at specific programs, we need to look at “what is Jewish life” and what we have been missing.

    I believe there are many ways to be Jewish, and all (maybe I should say most) are valid. I will not change my understanding of Judaism to fit into a traditional synagogue, but I will definitely take the sucesses of those communities to heart when looking at my own.

  29. Rob says

    Jessica, I think that I understand your point, but why do organizations need to “empower” individuals, however you define that? 40-somethings, the subject demographic of this piece are not “young adults”; they are middle-aged adults who ought to have empowered themselves by the time they reach 40 instead of whining that “programming” , “outreach”, and “empowerment” is not handed to them on a silver platter on the entire community’s dime. Tzedakah (this is a philanthropy blog, after all) is a *commandment* in Judaism, not a quid pro quo in exchange for age-appropriate programming. “Outreach” and “programming” are to provide a return on investment for the communal needs; Young Leadership types of programming are valuable, and may well provide a decent return on community investment, after 10 or 20 years of a young person being involved. But those who age out of Young Leadership as single, childless 40-somethings are demographic outliers, not the majority of 40-somethings. Expending more time and money on ever fewer and fewer such outliers reaches a point of diminishing returns for communities. Tragic, but true. At some point, 40-somethings have to accept what is beyond their control.

  30. says

    Amanda, Jewishly fulfilling adulthood is available already. It’s a personal choice, and those who make it are taken seriously where it is available, right to my point about Orthodox synagogues (and observant life). “Social Justice” is not Judaism, and Tzedakah is only one part of Judaism. Complaints like Lauren’s “Now that I’m over 40, single, and without children (and do not have deep enough pockets to be a major donor), the community could not care less about me” sadden me terribly. Makes me wonder if this Lauren’s entire sense of Judaism and Jewish communal life is fundraising. Tzedakah is a mitzvah, not a choice of personal Jewish fulfillment. Gratitude is needed for fulfillment. She doesn’t sound grateful for what she has and what she is able to give, however small she thinks it is.

  31. says

    it’s been a bit of a crazy ride, the last 60 hours or so, and shabbat – as always – is just in time. once again we read this week one of my (54) favorite parashot, reminding us that seemingly bad things, can turn into good things. I believe in it too. I appreciate the feedback and support. I hope we can stay focused on the topic(s): the great need for vertical community opportunities and engagement that just gets better with time so we all have good things to look forward too, not just memories.
    Quick idea – from a colleague of mine – for example, is having birthright trips be staffed or joined in part by “older” community members, a rabbi, board member, a long time community member. yes, I get the challenges, but think about it for a minute: this means that when the trip participants come back, they now have a community go-to person, and the community has a bridge to them. I am not against YA programming. I just believe we need to leverage what we’re doing and give it much more depth. my best qualification for writing this article is not my professional background but the fact that I am a mother to six children, ages 15-26. the first thing I did when I wrote this piece, was send the article to them and get their “approval”. please hear it in a non-emotional, not angry, not frustrated, almost shabbat tone: we need to give our young people much deeper soil to put their roots in. let’s talk about how we do more of that.

    for whatever it’s worth, I need to add that it was never my intention to harm in any way the SF federation. it’s a great place that does great work locally and globally. I was honored to be invited to work there, and value its contributions to the community. it is not my intend to stop supporting federation myself, and am no interested in others campaigning to do so. I am, after all, in the words of my beloved mentor – a federation “junkie”. I drank the Koolaid. I believe in the value of building community and the need for a convening organization. I will look forward to the next opportunity for me to do so.
    shabbat shalom

  32. Mary Friedman says

    They fired Michal for this article!? Time for directed donations. Federation, ask the kids for money and leave us old folks alone!

  33. Rabbi Matt Fredman says

    I have known Michal Kohane for over 10 years. She has always been innovative, energetic and deeply committed to Judaism, the Jewish people and Israel. I don’t know anything about the details of why she was released by the Federation or the role of her article. I do know that the issues she raised are real and worthy of discussion. They are also not new issues. The balance between youth focus and adult focus has always been with us along with intergenerational feuding and criticism. Yes, the Millenials are self centered and “entitled.” In the work place they expect rapid promotions and reject uninteresting assignments. On the other hand, the parents of the Millenials, the Baby Boomers, were so estranged from their “greatest generation” parents that we described the gulf between them as the “generation gap.” Given these problems it is perhaps wise that we seek a sense of perspective.
    If we ignore the youth we do so at our peril. As a high school student I was a member of Crystal Springs AZA, After college I thought I would have a knock on the door from a member of the B’nai Brith lodge inviting me to join. It never happened. It didn’t happen for any of my friends either. If it had perhaps B’nai Brith lodges would be filled with Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millenials. No doubt the same could be said for other organizations.
    If we ignore older adults we also do so at our peril. The comment section for this article is filled with the comments of those who have felt marginalized. At least those who have commented are connected enough to the community to have read the article and responded.
    We live in a time when assimilation is the norm. We can ill afford to ignore any demographic within our community.
    Our attention should be focused on regaining our perspective and finding a way to create an intergeneration approach to programming.
    The concerns raised by Michal Kihane are worth considering and they can be a springboard for a lively discussion.

  34. Adrian says

    I have been fortunate to go back to study with millennia folk at the same time as tutoring them after a break of forty years. My message: don’t be so precious. We also had a generation gap with our parents and older siblings. Think what kind of world you want to pass on and of course, remember that Jewish continuity is in your hands just like every previous generation. We did what we had to without the excuses.

  35. says

    Shoshana complains here that after college in 2000, she she “…visited a synagogue my first Shabbat in town and everyone ignored me, so I never went back.”. Typical 20-something solipsism, all about her, always about her, only when she wants it. I guess worship of G-d had nothing to do with her visit to synagogue, since it was all about her demanding attention to enhance her social life. Somebody should have greeted a new face, for sure, but lacking that, did she say to even one person, even the Rabbi, “Hi, I’m Shoshana, and I’m new here”??? Apparently not; like a spoiled child, she makes no effort beyond a pathetic first attempt, and gives up. Maybe after a few visits, somebody would say to her, “I’ve seen you before, but we haven’t met yet”… Makes me wonder what kind of wimpy children we are raising into wimpy young adults, the famous boomerang kids of helicopter parents who demand everything be handed to them along with a participation trophy to artificially prop up their self-esteem. No wonder communal participation is so low among young people; we raise them to only take, not give, in general, not just in tzedakah.

  36. Dan Brown says

    Read more on Haaretz.com (registration required):

    Fired for challenging U.S. Jewry’s focus on young adults:
    A director at San Francisco’s Jewish federation is sacked for suggesting that the Jewish community puts too much premium on engaging young adults, instead of putting ‘older, integrated’ adults forward.”

    – See more at: http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-cost-of-criticism/comment-page-1/#comment-128748

  37. Yona Golan says

    Thank you Michal for having the courage to speak out, hopefully it would open a dialogue about this important issue. I find the cowardly action of the SF Federation, of letting Michal go for expressing her mind, very shameful, say the list.

  38. Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin says

    Rob, YES! As a now mid 30s married mother of 3, Jewish professional whose husband is a congregational rabbi, I still believe that new people, especially young people who may be nervous or intimidated to be there in the first place should personally greeted and welcomed by the rabbi. My husband always makes a special effort to welcome ALL new faces at shul, both young and older. Isn’t the point of a minyan that we pray together as a community?? When I was 20 years old I was looking for community and a sense of belonging. I’m sorry if that sounds selfish to you but it’s part of growing up. Maybe you don’t agree with the idea that young people deserve a special welcome (although I don’t know why a hello is so much to ask for!) but if you don’t do things like that, in 30 years the only synagogues left in the US will be Orthodox ones where people come to daven out of obligation. I’m not sure how old you are, but a 20 year old has a lot less confidence to put themselves out there than a 30 year old. Let’s not forget that!

  39. Bobbi says

    Thank you SO much for this!

    As a member of that 40+ generation, and also a Jew by choice, I feel nailed by all this “young adult engagement” all the time. I will never qualify for a birthright trip, nor any scholarship opportunities to continue my education, because I am not considered a “young Jew.” Yet… I have been a Jew for less than a decade… that seems pretty young to me!

    I’m too old for the young Jews, and too young for the old Jews…. sigh!

  40. Myra says

    I believe that there is still a cadre of young people in the Jewish community who are engaged – both as professionals, lay leaders, and workers for social justice. HOWEVER, as a 45 plus single person of lower income, I too have felt disenfranchised in the Jewish community. This is especially true of federation and Hadassah. No pay, no play. Time spent volunteering is not accepted in equal measure to money donated, and in my own experience, never has been.

  41. Marc says

    What’s missing from a discussion solely based on generational issues is a much deeper one, the one at the heart of all issues on the “liberal” side of Judaism … WHY be Jewish? WHAT does it mean to be Jewish? What PURPOSE does it fulfill now?

    Reform/Conservative/Reconstructionist (et al) Judaism has failed miserably in answering this most basic question. If we don’t have a why, then everything else is surface bs. If there is no MEANING then our federations and shuls will just continue on this flighty jump from one stab in the dark to another, disenfranchising everyone else along the way.

    A recipe for disaster.

  42. Lev says

    There was no Birthright in my 20’s. Instead, I packed my bags, made Aliyah, worked on a kibbutz, and served as a solider in the IDF. I sometimes feel that it is my generational peers that did not have a similar experience of making a significant sacrifice that now feel obliged to bend over backwards and give so many freebies to the younger generation in an attempt to lure them towards a relationship with Israel and Jewish life.
    The term “Birthright” refers to Easu who sold his birthright to Jacob because he didn’t comprehend its value. Its value is not that it is a ‘right’, but an obligation. Without a sense of authentic obligation these programs are a waste of money. It’s like sending your children to Hebrew school or Jewish day school, but not sharing with them your sense of obligation of celebrating Shabbat in the home.
    Throwing money and programs at young people in lieu of raising them with the value of obligation may allow some folks to believe they are making a difference, but it is doubtful that they will create the sense of obligation that many parents neglected to model and instill in their children.

  43. Wendi says

    After reading the post and the resulting comments, it’s obvious this has hit a soft spot. And there are reasons for engaging all members of the Jewish community, and for encouraging discussion and open-minded dissent — to empower us as a community to find resources and programs to engage everyone, at every age.
    I think one thing to bear in mind is the issue of focusing on one group with a disproportionate amount of our time and resources. We know we have limited resources, so how best to distribute those to welcome all ages, with programs that engage them where they are. And they need not be expensive, or cater to old paradigms. That is one thing that younger people can bring to the table, new ways of looking at existing programs. And all need to look at it as benefiting everyone, not just one demographic.
    However, I do have to mention my own experience: as a middle aged convert, I was very often left to my own devices when it came to looking for ways to engage and connect to my new community. It was assumed that I had the resources for my own trip to Israel, or that I had already gone. It was assumed that I wanted to engage the community as a philanthropic donor — even though I was not in a financial place to do so. It was assumed that I had a certain level of learning and thus the programs marketed to me were often over my head. These assumptions about where people are in their lives based purely on age do Everyone a disservice.
    How about a radical idea? What if we drop age restrictions and instead focus on meeting people where they are — affiliated or non-affiliated, never traveled to Israel or have 10+ trips under their belts, new to Talmud or learned scholars, financially solvent or struggling….. It’s this sort of focus that can build a community, rather than segregate it.
    We are a community, let’s build on that.

  44. says

    It’s about time people start speaking about this. I am 36 years old and just finished my undergrad. I was thinking about making aliyah and going to grad school in Israel. I contacted Nefesh b’nefesh and they told me that to be eligible to have grad school paid for, I would have to be under 30. If I wanted to go for undergrad and it be paid for, I would have to be under 26. So, in the end I decided not to make aliyah. I also inquired to go on Birthright with my Hillel at school and they said that birthright only allows people under 26. I also inquired with a few other Israel programs on campus, including Hasbara and was turned down because of age again. It is so interesting how the Jewish world does not provide for people out of their 20’s. Why don’t they value us? Do they think we are already close to dying or something? Thank you for speaking up!

  45. says

    I feel that engaging a younger generation is one of the important roles that we have. I don’t understand the anger I hear around this. Haven’t we been around Judaism long enough to know that we are welcome to participate in any organization, synagogue, program that there is and in fact, that all of us, who lead such organizations would be thrilled to have anyone who wanted to participate?!
    Members of each generation, as they come and go, develop their own goals and passions which reflect the world in which they live. We have seen a plethora of brand-new organizations formed so people can actualize these ideas. Older organizations have to let younger ones know that there is room in the existing power structure for them and for their new ideas. That is how I understand youth engagement. If you go to an event run by a major Jewish organization, it is hard to imagine that your voice can be heard. Youth engagement is putting out the welcome mat.

    If baby-boomers like me want to have the opportunity to go on birthright, we should make a good case to the birthright folks why we can’t afford to pay for the trip ourselves and why it would be meaningful to us to go. Maybe the birthright folks would respond favorably. Especially if they hear many voices saying the same message. NewCAJE sponsored a “New Voices” song-writing contest. When it turned out that people who weren’t young enough wanted a song writing contest too, we decided to sponsor a song-writing contest one year and a new voices contest the next. Why not?

    My field is Jewish education and for awhile it did not seem that we we felt a need to reach out to a new generation to share in our power and in our jobs; but the truth is, that left us with a serious shortage of Jewish educators. So at NewCAJE we created a space and an opportunity for younger professionals to partner with us. We have been gratified by their response. I feel honored to mentor younger educators. I think it is a responsibility we should all take on so we can hear the footsteps behind us. I would have benefited from having a professional mentor when I started out in the field. Why should each generation make the same mistakes as the last one did –why not make progress by standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us?

    I think there is an exciting future for people my age to pioneer a model of life-long learning and activism. Let’s not go out to pasture, but find a useful role for ourselves that will further the work of the Jewish community. Different generations are at different stages in our lives. Our Jewish rituals warmly welcome us at every stage in our lives–birth to death and everything in between. Baruchim HaBa’im! May you be blessed as you come to your newest adventure. We can welcome everyone by giving everyone an equal chance to realize their vision.

  46. says

    I think some of the issues raised here are specific to Federations, which are still primarily fundraising organizations. In as much as they support social welfare, that’s a good thing. However, their outreach efforts toward younger adults often seem to have a purpose of finding those who will be major donors as older adults. Most people, even those who don’t need help, still won’t be really major donors. And the organizations that provide a sustaining Jewish experience for those who want to be engaged don’t have the outreach budget that the Federation programs have. Cherie deserves lots of kudos for moving onward in a positive spirit, but the fact that the major philanthropic forces wanted to support Birthright for younger folks and not the old CAJE for Jewish educators is naturally going to engender some feelings of rejection from committed people.