Aging Out of Generational Divides

by Erica Lyons

Recent articles in the Jewish media have cited critical differences between Jews under 40 and ”older Jews” and have made reference to “stark generation gaps”, “deep generational divides” and certain ideas “not resonating with Jews under 40”. Will I think so radically differently in 11 months? Will I be ‘unfriended’ by my social media cohorts? Will I no longer be their cohorts, statistically speaking?

There are numerous regional honors for the top 40 Jews under 40, the best 36 under 36. There is even an online published list of the 30 hottest Jews under 40. This one I fail to understand, they couldn’t find 40? Would a 42 under 42 list of Jewish leaders really be so terribly offensive?

Other articles focus on how Jews are choosing to marry later, with the effect that they are beginning to have children at an older age. Does this shift the generational divide at all? If I got married later, would I have stayed younger longer?

The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship is capped at 40, the ROI Summit also caps at 40. These are just two examples of the many opportunities that will cease to exist once I move into the ‘older generation’ and age out. There are a myriad of young leadership programs, fellowships, summits, conferences and AJC’s ACCESS programs geared for the ‘next generation’. Will I no longer have access to these? Am I to become entirely irrelevant to these networks?

As a participant at the recent Schusterman Foundation’s ROI Summit 2011, held in June in Jerusalem, this became a hot topic, at least to those of us nearing the end. As one younger fellow participant assured me, “40 is the new 30.” Can I put that on an application?

In all seriousness, the ROI Summit is about creating a network of young Jewish innovators, a community. While there are in fact examples of societies/communities that push their members out as they age, and turn their back on them, we were assured that this is not a model that will be replicated. While by some ‘relative measures’ the group of ROIers nearing 40 that I fall into will soon no longer be young, we will still be innovators.

For me, my entry into the world of ‘Jewish innovation’ came late. I first went to law school and had a legal career in a large insurance company – as you would imagine this was not a hotbed of innovation. Again, statistically speaking, as a Jewish professional, I was married young and had children young. I entered motherhood in my 20s and was the mother of two by the time I was 30, the mother of 3 by 33. I switched professional gears and first became an ‘innovator’ at 37. Where does that now leave me and others like me?

For networks like the ROI community, the concept of ‘aging out’ doesn’t actually exist. While participation in some events might be capped, as I near the ‘next generation’ I will soon enter into a group that now suddenly has more finely developed skills and life experiences to bring to the table. At 20, as many of us are, I was very much caught up in ‘my generation’ and ‘my peers’; I think I have become quite a bit more liberal in my associations with age.

While age is a measure, open-mindedness and common values trump this. We as a people are in an age where divides are beginning to melt away. We care deeply about diversity and inclusiveness and less about categories and boxes. We thrive on buzzwords like peoplehood and global. We overwhelmingly are defining ourselves as just Jewish; rather than as Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist. Our associations are becoming increasingly more fluid.

Like the Schusterman Foundation, to receive a real ‘Return on Our Investment”, we can’t cap our own contacts, colleagues and friends with a minimum and a maximum age. If anything, as I near 40, my children are a stronger reminder than any of the importance of my role in investing in the Jewish world of today and tomorrow. This is best done by reaching across ages and generations.

Erica Lyons is the Hong Kong-based founder of Asian Jewish Life – a journal of spirit, society and culture for and about Jews in the Far East.