by Michal Kohane
We first met when my article “40 plus and Screwed” was published at eJewishPhilanthropy this past summer. The storm around the article, and my immediate firing, has subsided, however, the issues raised then, further enforced by comments and conversations on and off line, did not go away and still need our attention.
Current trends and aging patterns, partially expressed in the recent Pew study again speak to the fact that the 40 plus age bracket, otherwise known as “boomers”, is the largest generation we currently have in our community. At the same time, it is bracket that gets most of the demands (pay for this or that, sit on the committee, board etc) and is least “purposefully served”, namely there is no “PJ Library” or “Masa” to engage and support this age group in its Jewish journeys, even though for many are just coming into their Jewish awareness, making first steps towards peace with exploring that part of their identity. Talk about Birthright for 40 or 50 plus and you’re met with laughter, and it’s not the money. We haven’t even made it that far. We just don’t think of investing in this age group. Yes, when the JCC brings in a speaker, the audience is largely over 40, but not because they were sought after; simply because they showed up.
Some of the reasons for that are obvious: we’re busy; we’re taking care of those younger and older. And yet, without understanding why we’re here, why we’re still needed, it will be hard to give that to others. In our “youth worshiping” culture, we tend to make sure our children have it all. They are the future, the promise! But this kind of structure is not sustainable on many levels, expressed (if flamboyantly) in the previous article. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (5:25) offers us a different system where there is something new and relevant awaiting for each age group; something you can’t get before your time on credit. You have to be 40 for certain wisdom, 50 for certain understanding, 60 for certain honors, and so on. The spiral keeps going and growing, giving everyone a respectful place. Rambam in Mishneh Torah (Laws of Torah Study 1:4) insightfully writes: “If a parent wished to study Torah, and he has a child who must also learn, the parent takes precedence… the parent must not ignore his own study, for just as it a Mitzvah to educate the child, so, too, is the parent commanded to teach himself”. Now, as then, there is still a need and place for creating unique, meaningful engagements with Judaism for all.
My article last summer was a blog; it was “raw” as some said. It definitely needed to be followed up by a professional response. Towards this end, I created “reJewvenate”, a website that has just been launched last week, and is designed to serve as a hub for the 40 plus in the Jewish world and. Its purpose is to have a platform to share information and resources, primarily regarding learning, service and travel opportunities. But more than the specifics, it’s a first step to put this discussion somewhere, to brainstorm what is already happening, what needs and can be done, what ideas, partnerships and programs are out there that one can to join, where is a place to create something new is, and more.
So – let’s reJewvenate. It now needs you. I look forward to continuing our conversation.
Born and raised in Israel, Michal Kohane has been a leader and educator in the Jewish Community of Northern California for over twenty years – where she’s acted as an interim rabbi for a smaller community, a teacher for all ages, a federation executive and more. She holds a BA in Studies of Israel and Education, an M.S. in Jewish Studies and an MA in Clinical Psychology.