Engaging Jewish Young Adults
[This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 17 – Engaging Millennials with Jewish Peoplehood What Does It Take? – published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.]
By Alejandro Okret
I am not worried. I am almost certain I am not worried.
In reading about sustainability and how we humans react to the term and relate to it pragmatically, I started to think about the Jewish community. To make a long story short, I’ll cut to the chase and focus on young adults, fashionably called “Millennials.”
Through my job at Moishe House, out of the London office, I am very lucky to interact on a daily basis with Jewish young adults as close as Argentina and as far as New Zealand. I learn from them, adapt and update my weltanschauung. A Pew Research Center report from 2012 titled, “Nones on the rise,” highlighted how Millennials are less religiously affiliated than ever before; however, in my opinion, this in no way means less communally engaged. A revaluation of beliefs and practices is central to emerging adulthood. The traditions and communal customs used by previous generations have certainly morphed, but not the eagerness to participate and activate.
The lack of a communal space that positively engages young adults has meant that this cohort has looked elsewhere, as described in a recent publication from the Harvard Business Review, “How we gather.” That ‘elsewhere’ has often been with their peers in informal settings. Young adults in the Jewish community are increasingly resorting to peer-built communities. This is their time to experiment, and most importantly, to fail. Failure carries a huge burden, but it embodies great potential for success and empowerment. I want to see young adults assume responsibilities and show us the way. At the end of the day, they are the next generation of communal leaders and it is now when they need to be given the opportunity to earn the trust from the Jewish community. However, is the Jewish community ready to give them that trust?
At Moishe House, we pride ourselves for acknowledging that our residents, the Jewish young adults creating meaningful Jewish programming for their peers across the world, are the real specialists. We are there to support and help them, but they are the doers and innovators.
In Europe, where I am based, anti-Semitism is growing and the sense of building resilient communities is increasingly urgent. I could not imagine partnering with a better core of individuals. Young adults are flocking in by the tens of thousands to participate, create vibrant and invigorating communities, and assume their role in their Jewish communities. All we need to do is adapt our mindset and learn to meet them at their junctions, where they know what works for them and not what adults tell them will work for them.
I am not worried. As long as we keep investing in Jewish young adults and let them lead, I am not worried.
Alejandro Okret is Moishe House Chief Global Officer and a member of the ROI community.