[This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 17 – Engaging Millennials with Jewish Peoplehood What Does It Take? – published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.]
By Liz Fisher
What does it take to engage Jewish Millennials with Peoplehood? Let’s start by changing the question. Let’s reframe the topic to: Engaging with Jewish Millennials about Peoplehood. Instead of creating a divide and thinking about what it takes “us” to engage “them” with Peoplehood, let’s embrace them as part of the Jewish People and engage with them in a collective conversation about Peoplehood.
On this premise, I reached out to Repair the World fellows, who are in their 20s and spending a year of their lives engaging peers in volunteerism, Jewish learning, and social impact.
Here’s what a few of them said:
The concept of Jewish Peoplehood resonates with me very much. For me my Jewish identity has been less to do about religion or a belief in G-d but more about a connection to a people and global community that have lasted for thousands of years.
Ariel Wexler, Repair the World Fellow, Pittsburgh
As a millennial growing up in a secular American-Jewish, or Jewish-American society… it is hard for me to accept the notion of the term “Jewish Peoplehood.” To me, “Jewish Peoplehood” is a term to keep the Jewish population united. It seems as if it is a belief that the Jewish people are similar, whether culturally, religiously, or through kinship. Personally, I only semi-subscribe to this concept. While I do believe it is crucial for people to be part of a community and great things can come from unity, to me, it is more important to not alienate one group of people as a “Peoplehood.”
Andrew Davidov, Repair the World Fellow, NYC
The phrase “Jewish Peoplehood” feels kind of foreign and centralized to me. It is not part of my jargon that I use relating to Judaism and Jewish nonprofits. I think that part of it is because I love the diversity of Jewish experience, and that it can mean so many different things to different people.
Sam Sittenfeld, Repair the World Team Leader, NYC
These responses were not surprising, as they reflect much of what we at Repair the World understand about young American Jews: 1) they are not monolithic. What feels embracing to one, feels alienating to another; 2) they feel connected to Judaism as something larger than themselves and are proud to be Jewish; yet, 3) they hold deeply universalist values and multiple identities. That understanding was reinforced in a recent independent evaluation of Repair the World’s Communities programs, which engaged 12,000 people in the first two years. Of those 12,000, 75% were young Jewish adults, and 70% of those had a “low Jewish engagement background.” The top reasons why they engaged in Communities’ volunteer experiences? To address a problem and help others (97%); the opportunity to meet like-minded people (77%) and the opportunity for a genuine encounter with people from different backgrounds (77%). In other words, Peoplehood, yes, but not only. Millennials want community AND they want to meet people from outside their community.
An interesting note about these responses is that they came within minutes of me sending an email with this inquiry – a signal perhaps of these individuals’ eagerness to be part of this conversation. We should welcome them and their peers into this conversation by rst stopping with the “how do we engage them” question. Let’s pledge, instead, to include people under the age of 30 in our planning, on our Boards, and as part of our professional teams. Because if we want to understand how better to share the values of Peoplehood, we just need to ask. Jewish millennials are, after all, part of this People too.
Liz Fisher is the Chief Operating Officer of Repair the World.