By David Cygielman
For the past 10 years, Moishe House has discovered a great deal from young adults in their 20s as they create the most vibrant and meaningful Jewish communities. We have learned from Moishe House staff, residents, participants, and from digging into the findings of our external evaluations.
The landscape itself looks quite different today than it did in 2006 when the first Moishe House opened. We continue to adapt our strategy over the years to meet the needs and demands of Millennials across six continents and will continue to evolve as the program grows. That said, we consistently come back to five key ingredients that we find absolutely crucial in maximizing the impact of young adult engagement: Peer-to-Peer Engagement; Frequency of Attendance; Depth of Content and Variety of Jewish Programming; Specific Age Range; and Vetted Leaders.
We certainly recognize that Jewish life for 20-somethings can be developed without these key elements; however, for Moishe House, these important takeaways increase and amplify engagement and ultimately the impact that we strive to make with young adults. We are committed to being an open source learning organization with findings that will hopefully benefit the whole field and community. In that spirit, we are excited to share these takeaways.
1. Peer–to–Peer Engagement
Young adults create the most authentic and relevant experiences by planning programs they are genuinely interested in attending. A peer-to-peer approach is cost-effective and turns over the ownership to the young adults who work to create quality programming while recruiting and engaging their friends. By tapping into the social networks of the young adults planning and participating in programming, there is a real surge in excitement and participation. This model of engagement helps to:
- Enable a constant flow of young adults entering their 20s to engage as both leaders and participants
- Sustain a stream of new ideas and attraction of new networks, leaders and participants
- Provide a feeling of ownership for these young adults that are hosting programs
- Promote strong transparency between the organization and the young adults they are serving
2. Frequency of Attendance
If the goal of running programs is to have an impact on the participants, a high frequency of programming and attendance is essential. Getting folks to show up to a program once or twice a year or holding a big shotgun event with 1,000+ people may boost numbers, but the data shows it has very little to no longer-term impact. In order to effect change on the attitudes and behaviors of participants, they must show up to a program at least four times a year or participate in an immersive experience that lasts multiple days or weeks.
In order to really evaluate the investments the Jewish community is making in young adult Jewish life, we must evolve from tracking total attendance or unique participants as a primary way of demonstrating impact. Big total attendance and unique participant numbers are helpful, but only if they also lead to more consistent participation. Frequency of attendance leads to:
- A greater feeling of community and belonging when participants build relationships
- A consistency of additional touch points within days (rather than months) in the event of missing or skipping a program
- Participants and leaders taking rituals and practices they experience through programming into their own lives and homes
3. Depth of Content and Variety of Jewish Programming
One size does not fit all for community programming. For some, their entry point to Jewish life is through exploring the outdoors, while for others, it is through study and celebrating Jewish holidays. If the goal is to engage both those with a strong Jewish upbringing as well as those who are totally unengaged, we must provide a diverse array of compelling experiences and opportunities. Jewish young adults consistently look for value-added experiences, as well as opportunities to enjoy being with their peers. This diversity of programming is necessary because:
- Jewish young adults look for depth in relationships and real Jewish content
- It allows multiple points of entry that can be followed up with a variety of different types of programming
- There is a yearning to explore and experiment with old and new rituals
- A strong mix of program opportunities will allow for a variety of participants and leaders
- Great Jewish experiences happen when the idea of being “more or less” Jewish does not exist
4. Specific Age Range
Focusing on a specific age range matters. For example, a 22-year-old recent college graduate with a new job and living on his or her own for the first time is at an entirely different place in life than a 38-year-old with two children.
There are a couple of ways to establish a specific age range. While not a perfect science, we can create boundaries to optimize programming and participation. One way to create these boundaries is through age and Moishe House chose the following ranges: 22-32 and 33-45. If someone is in stuck in the middle of these two age ranges, they will naturally gravitate to the group of that best suits their phase of life. A specific age range will:
- Create firm boundaries that are proactively communicated, transparent, and have a clear “why” behind them
- Build a strong and sustained community that uniquely serves the cohort of young adults in the designated age range
- Avoid the alienation of younger participants who are experiencing young adult Jewish life for the first time
- Allow for more customized experiences that can lead to deeper outcomes
5. Vetted Leaders
There are many great young Jewish leaders and we need to create opportunities to maximize their leadership capabilities within the Jewish community. It is also important to note that while harnessing the talents of young leaders is key, we must also find ways to appreciate and support the many more people who are not in these leadership positions and wish to be active participants.
Peer-led and DIY programming only works when organizations truly hand over the ownership to the young adults they entrust to lead programs. The risk here is how to establish and maintain high quality content and frequency. This is primarily accomplished by having vetted and trained leaders running programs.
This process is two-fold, and while participation in programming should be simple, being a leader requires a different standard. First, there must be an application process; we simply cannot just let anyone to sign up to run programs through a few quick clicks of a button. Vetting can include a direct application but also may include accepting anyone who has been through an organization with its own vetting and training process. Secondly, there must be continued training. Every peer leader has the opportunity to grow, and if we ask them to invest their time in running programs, we should invest our time and provide the best possible training.
Vetting leaders will:
- Provide high quality stand-alone programs or immersive learning experiences
- Build a system for strong organizational and staff support aimed at getting leaders to take on responsibility for longer periods of time
- Create a barrier of entry so organizations can invest in the young adults who are the most ready to take on the serious commitment of leading their peers
- Eliminate the many one-time or sporadic peer-led programs in the Jewish community that lack content and longer term impact because the leader is not fully committed to the program or organization
These five key ingredients are important ways to maximize the impact of young adult engagement. As organizations continue to push one another to think outside the box, hopefully, they feel confident about sharing their findings with each other. This is how Jewish organizations can best serve Millennials and one another for decades to come and empower them to continue being leaders in their communities around the globe.
David Cygielman is Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Moishe House.