“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
The annual exercise of offering predictions for the year ahead is always a fun one – a rousing mix of optimism and aspiration, with a healthy dose of realism thrown in for good measure. For some, predictions are meant to demonstrate keen insight drawn from past experience. Other yearly forecasts simply boil down to the musings of wishful thinkers.
In contrast, I have always thought of predictions as roadmaps – blueprints that help us more clearly visualize new routes to success and dodge impending obstacles as we chart our course into the future. What fresh concepts and potential pitfalls will we see in the year ahead? How will we navigate them? And, most importantly, how will we draw from these inferences to map a better tomorrow? With those key questions in mind, I offer my own roadmap for Jewish life: five ideas that I think will help us visualize, navigate and shape the year ahead in profound and positive ways.
- Ritual Remixes. Wherever you look, novel and exciting incarnations of ritual are developing across the canvas of Jewish life. Perhaps the most crucial element of this transition is the increasing frequency of interfaith relationships in the non-Orthodox Jewish community, which has resulted in an even greater number of individuals blending personal, cultural and religious traditions together in innovative, meaningful ways that suit contemporary lifestyles. Even more telling, these ritual remixes are also gaining mass appeal – particularly among millennial Jews. Case in point: DAYBREAKER, an amazing mix of early morning dancing, meditation and reflection, has seen staggering success that has far outpaced expectation, helping tens of thousands of young adults around the world start their day inspired and with clarity of mind – something with deep ties to Jewish values. Whether you call it an experience, a cultural fad or a new and evolving form of the conventional shacharit service, DAYBREAKER represents the kind of ritual re-mixology that we will undoubtedly see more of in the year ahead.
- Camping: Back to the Future. Study after study has demonstrated the power of Jewish camp programs to positively impact the identity development of children and teens, a notable insight that has inspired a much greater community investment in building camp experiences that are more accessible to Jewish families. And in 2016, I think we will see this trend accelerate in ways that will redefine camping for the next generation. We’re already seeing it happen in the evolution and mass appeal of adult camping experiences like Camp Grounded and Camp No Counselors, which are becoming some of the most oft-attended and talked-about experiences among millennial Jews. But we are also witnessing the phenomenon on a much grander scale. The revelers that congregate at Burning Man in the heart of the Nevada desert, the hordes that flock to Bonnaroo in rural Tennessee, the crowds that that clamor to climb aboard the Summit at Sea ship and so many others who seek dynamic, unique sleep-away experiences are proof positive that 20 and 30-somethings are looking for ways to go back to camp. And if young adults want to revisit their camp days, it is a promising indication that they will help their kids create those memories, as well. In the face of so much evidence, look for social entrepreneurs, nonprofit organizations and startups to capitalize on this trend in 2016.
- S-Commerce of Jewish Community Building. Never mind drone delivery services and virtual reality (both predicted to be emerging trends in 2016) – the biggest technology shift that will impact Jewish life will literally be right at your fingertips. The continuous evolution of mobile technology, network theory and big data are fueling even more innovative ways to tap into the consumer mindset and better understand how, when and where people invest in products and services. The new approaches of social commerce (s-commerce) being developed by data titans like Amazon and Google and lifestyle consumer brands like Apple and Lululemon are helping this generation instantaneously visualize “who is buying what” and strategically market products and services to key audiences. This trend is not only one to watch, but one to get ahead of. Whether we like it or not, we live in a “lean consumption” world – and if we want people to engage in Jewish experiences, we will need to get smarter about how we leverage platforms of social commerce.
- Volun-gigging. The sheer numbers of individuals engaging in service activities are impressive, and continuing to reflect the “give-back” mentality of the next generation. But a challenge lies ahead. As these individuals, particularly ones in creative industries, devote increasing amounts of their time to advancing their careers, developing their résumés and forging professional connections, they begin to ask themselves where “for good” fits into their schedules – schedules that are ruled by “for profit” considerations. How can they carve out the time for a volunteer gig when the need to get paid so thoroughly dominates their daily lives? Of course, it’s not a binary choice: many individuals provide services to people in need at reduced costs, giving and getting at the same time. But as we continue to migrate towards a “gig economy,” I think we will see an increased urgency in how we create sustainable approaches to fostering what I call “volun-gigging” – service opportunities that can be easily adapted to a volunteer’s personal interests and availability.
- Deep(er) Texting. It is hard to miss the explosion of newsletters, daily updates and hyper-curated content lists that are filling our inboxes – and whether you’re signed up for none, one or many, they are beginning to permeate our consumption of news and ideas. In 2016, three key trends will converge, transforming the way we understand the power of text: the acceleration of chat apps (like Slack and WhatsApp), the proliferation of content curation platforms and the increasing number of people looking for ways to step back from mass social platforms to engage with smaller groups are showing us that peer-based models of shared learning and engagement are poised for an explosive year in 2016. During the development of one of our latest projects at the Schusterman Family Foundation, we came to realize that it’s not the idea of book clubs that is stopping people from participating in them – it’s that these individuals have never been personally invited to join one. This year, look for increased means of invitation, as well as new ways to communicate with text and foster deeper conversation about important issues – and begin to think about how Jewish ideas, values and culture fit into those organic experiences.
At their core, these predictions are really nothing new at all: they revolve around ritual, community building, service and study – all central tenets of Jewish history as much as they are building blocks for the future of the Jewish community. But to say everything old is new again misses the point. Rather, it’s how we respond to to the emerging trends around us – how we navigate the roadmap of 2016 and beyond – that will help us not only tackle new challenges, but create new opportunities to engage present and future generations. And so like every year, the unpredictability of the future leaves us with one clear understanding: the best predictions are those we actually make happen. So will we?
Seth Cohen is a Senior Director at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.