The challenge of engaging the next generation does not exist in a vacuum.
By David Werdiger
How to engage our ‘next’ generation is one of the burning issues for Jewish communities around the world.
Australian Jewish Funders, through AJF Innovation and in partnership with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and local funders Besen Family Foundation and the JCA, puts on the LaunchPad retreat – a three day event that workshops innovative ideas that aim to strengthen and transform the Australian Jewish community. In the past, the retreat has brought together the full diversity of young Australian Jews aged 22-40 and helped them build the tools to tap into the immense power of their networks, all for the common goal of a stronger future for our community.
LaunchPad, which is modelled on the successful international ROI Community program, has help facilitate and seed several successful local initiatives, including the Eden Project, the Deborah Project, the Isaiah Fellowship and others, as well as bringing the successful Camp Sababa to Melbourne. As a result of these initiatives, we have seen a greater level of engagement from young people, who have been empowered to get more involved in the Jewish community and do things their way.
With all this focus on the younger members of our community, many over 40s wanted to participate but were not eligible, and felt left out. Aren’t they also capable of innovating? Don’t they too need to find better ways to be engaged with their Jewishness? Are they “chopped liver”?
In response to this, LaunchPad this year took a radical departure from the traditional format used all over the world, and opened registration to two groups: Gen Y (ages 22-35), and Gen X (ages 36+) for a combined event that took place on 17-19 May for over 80 participants.
It became more apparent that the challenge of engaging the next generation does not exist in a vacuum. Our Jewish community is blessed with some of the best infrastructure and organisations in the Jewish world. This didn’t come from nowhere; it was thanks to the efforts of the ‘Foundation’ generation (that’s a fancy term for ‘old people’) who invested their time and money to build said institutions, often from nothing or very little. It’s important to acknowledge the contribution of these community elders, and recognize that what we call the ‘next’ generation grew up on the shoulders of those community pioneers.
All generational groups need to understand that the emphasis on one group does not come at the expense of another. Lighting the fire inside the next generation is about building their connection to Judaism. That connection is not just about innovation or social justice – the issues that resonate with younger people. It’s about connecting generations: past, present and future.
The intergenerational LaunchPad experience was summed up well by one of the Gen X attendees: “It’s not often that you see men in their 20s and women in their 40s really talking about the things that truly matter to them. The preconceptions about working with the ‘other generation’ fall away. While we really do see and approach many things differently and often want quite different things, almost everyone reflected on the benefit they derived from listening across the Gen X/Y barrier, and the deeper sense of community it engendered”.
David Werdiger is a director of Australian Jewish Funders.