Creating Jewish Engagement

Writing on her personal blog, Esther Kustanowitz shares important thoughts on engaging young Jewish adults.

An excerpt from Getting Engaged: Part One:

So how do 20s and 30s make meaningful choices? It’s not a question of “this or that” – choices grow from a complex cocktail of influences starting in youth with parental influence, childhood environment and education, and are joined along the Yellow Brick Road by self-individuation, relationship with family, connection to tradition, manifestation of passions, media messages, and – perhaps one of the biggest influences in the days of social networking, crowdsourcing and peer recommendations – what choices their friends are making.

Affiliation is a choice. Civic engagement is a choice. Social activism is a choice. And when it comes to making space in their lives for those choices, many of which exist concurrently and definitely non-exclusively, most NextGen people don’t rely on organizations to do it for them, because they can do it better, faster, stronger and cheaper themselves. As Clay Shirky titled it in his book, “Here Comes Everybody,” this is the particular power of “organizing without organizations.” Is there any concept more terrifying to legacy organizations than the threat of their obsolescence?

Regular commitment to a set of people based in a singular geographical place is not today’s default organizing mindset. For those who perceive a need, the web is a field of dreams: build it, and people will come. Some will wander through on their own, others will come because you invite them and their networks. But this is the era of the flash mob – if something resonates, a passionate crowd will gather as its champions. But from that temporary, immersive, intense community, relationships can develop and persevere beyond the end of a specific motivation. It’s the equivalent to having a summer camp experience – it may not be that many weeks or months long, but it makes an impact and creates relationships that often persevere, and occasionally, evolve into something more intimate and connected.

Check out both Getting Engaged: Part 1 and Part 2: Courting Engagement (with 7 important take-aways to keep-in-mind).

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  1. says

    Citing the flash mob as the example of engagement without commitment is in actuality the proof of the fallacy of this thinking. Flash mobs take a lot of work. An agency (i.e. institution) is often engaged to plan it, organize it, hire people, recruit volunteers, train them and orchestrate the whole experience. Very little in life happens relying on people with only a passion for the cause. When people of any generation come together to make something happen, they are creating an organization, whether they see it as such or not. If they are doing it ad hoc, they are probably, in fact, resting on the work of someone else whether they admit it or not. In my generation we may have relied on the Jewish Catalog or the Jewish learning one or more of us had gotten from Jewish schools, online today people are providing content often through institutions. The question is not whether or not we are using institutions, the question is are we only taking or are we giving back as well.

  2. says

    Barbara, thanks for your thoughtful comment. Of course flash mobs take a lot of work to set up, and commitment on behalf of the organizers, and the participants commit to being there. But most of the work happens on the front end – after the event itself, the crowd disperses. I have no knowledge that there are people who transform that one-time meetup into a community beyond the moment. And that was my point.

    Also, the tendency of Jewish organizations is not “let’s mobilize to get this issue handled and then dissolve.” The organization usually remains, sometimes shifting in mission to reflect new needs or the passions of the committed, but often with no change at all.