The institutions that will sustain themselves and the Jewish world at-large will be those that invite and challenge young Jews to thrust themselves into the process of building our collective house.
By Andrew Fretwell
I would like to share with you a parable inspired by “The Home We Build Together,” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks*.
Once, there were three families who lived in separate beautiful houses, and each house had been passed down from generation to generation. The family who owned the first home hired a contractor on retainer to make repairs, as needed. The family who owned the second home made repairs on their own, but ensured efficiency on repairs by only allowing the work to happen while their children were out of the house. The family who owned the third house also made repairs on their own, but they went out of their way to include the children, even if it occasionally slowed progress.
What happened to these houses?
In the first house, the spiking of contractor’s fees combined with the family’s inability to make their own repairs resulted in the family both abandoning the house and selling the property to a developer. The second house stood until the parents passed away, when their grown children were unable to maintain it; they vacated and rented a nearby apartment, leaving the house to fall into disrepair. But, the third house stood through time; this house still flourishes today, with multiple generations regularly working together to repair and improve it.
I believe the family who owned the third house represent what we, the Jewish People, must strive to achieve. The Talmud says, “Call them not your children; call them your builders.” “Builders” is not a term we should use to only describe our teens, students and young adults; we should inspire and equip them to call, think, and act like builders. The institutions that will sustain themselves and the Jewish world at-large will be those that invite and challenge young Jews to thrust themselves into the process of building our collective house. The task is as simple as it is critical and profound: hand our teens, students and young adults a figurative tool belt, show them the cracks in the walls, and tell them, “What I have done we will now do together, and you will continue to do after I am gone.”
A few examples:
- Camp Tel Yehudah’s Hadracha Activism Institute empowers teens to dive deeply into a number of societal issues and implement a Jewishly driven activist campaign.
- Hillel’s Ask Big Questions poses to Jewish college students the very questions that the Jewish community has wrestled with for thousands of years.
- Natan Fund’s Amplifier galvanizes Jews in their 20’s and 30’s to organize peer-led “giving circles” and create communities of giving through the lens of Jewish values.
- Independent minyanim like Shir HaMaalot, a volunteer-led, Havurah that hosts musical Friday night services and a potluck dinner in Brooklyn.
- Moishe House Without Walls imparts skills and resources to young Jewish adults to envision, create and host meaningful programs for their peers.
These are excellent models that train and empower young Jews to be builders. At NEXT, we are piloting different ways for Birthrighters to create DIY experiences in New York and San Francisco through microgrants. To my colleagues who engage millennials: how else do you inspire and equip young people to act like builders? What has worked well in your community – or for your specific initiative – that others can adapt and utilize?
We know empowerment is key and meaningful engagement is a multi-stepped process. And while we should also look beyond our own field for ideas, we now need to look to each other to make this strategic goal accessible, scalable, and sustainable.
*At the beginning of the book, “The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks uses the metaphor of three houses that all accommodate visitors and guests differently to represent nativism, multiculturalism and pluralism.
Andrew Fretwell is the New York Community Activator at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation. He welcomes your questions, comments and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.