By Goldie Davoudgoleh
Imagine you are a soon-to-be college graduate, organizing countless job applications, taking in your last moments on campus, and preparing for the next chapter of your life. All of a sudden, a pandemic begins to spread across the world, turning everything upside down and causing you to return to your childhood home for the foreseeable future with a sense of defeat.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted everyone’s lives, my peers and I, members of the class of 2020, took a particularly hard hit, graduating into a declining economy, a scarce job market, a politically-polarized society, and a worldwide epidemic that has killed over a million people worldwide. Post-college young adults are also struggling to stay afloat as many have lost their jobs and returned home due to financial instability. Recognizing all Jews are responsible for one another, it is incumbent upon the Jewish community to help Jewish young adults who are suffering at this time.
Equipped with the skills and experiences we acquired during our four years of college, we Jewish young adults have the ability to make a difference in the Jewish community and in the world with the support of those who believe in us. It is imperative for the Jewish community to recognize our currently-inactive talents, help us process our pandemic experiences, and support the initiation of the next chapter of our educational and professional development. I have witnessed friends and fellow graduates lose hope and motivation as the waves of coronavirus continue to distance them from opportunities to jumpstart their career. Like every generation before ours, we seek to launch ourselves onto a path of independence and success, but in light of the crisis around us, we need the assistance of our Jewish community.
Jewish organizations that specialize in working with our demographic should feel the pressure to step up and create innovative and enticing opportunities for their audience, including educational programming, professional development, and leadership positions. This dedication of time and money will not only be an investment in the present, but will also plant the seeds for an adaptive generation of future leaders.
During the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, several Jewish organizations succeeded in running programming geared toward both the graduating class of 2020 and other young adults. Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), recognizing a few months into the pandemic that hundreds of young Jews had no plans for the near future, launched a virtual summer program called the Jewish Changemakers Fellowship. The fellowship engaged about 1,000 Jews between the ages of 20-25 in Jewish learning pertaining to identity, community, and advocacy over two three-week sessions. As a participant, I was able to hone in on my professional skills, meet admirable mentors, and learn about a variety of Jewish organizations during the educational seminars. JFNA not only provided my cohort with a valuable learning experience to fill our empty summers, but also inspired us, through learning and connections, to continue moving forward and apply our personal experiences to our next acts of change.
Pandemic programming for Jewish young adults was also produced by Combined Jewish Philanthropy’s Israel Campus Roundtable (ICR). Throughout the school year, ICR plans and funds Jewish and Israel-related engagement opportunities for Boston area college students. Recognizing a need for virtual programming, ICR’s leaders created a broad range of opportunities for their participants. Earlier this fall, they hosted a virtual event called “Shark Tank: Saving Lives Edition,” during which students pitched ideas for tackling issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic to a panel of judges for real funding to start their initiatives. ICR also co-hosted “The Black-Jewish Relationship Throughout History” learning series with Northeastern University Hillel throughout October and November of 2020. Each session of the series included a guest speaker that discussed the history of Black-Jewish relations, and how to strengthen them today. In addition, they have been using their Facebook page to announce job and volunteer opportunities for their members. ICR continues to compile a list of programs, fellowships, and events to introduce their audience to Jewish engagement, skill strengthening, and creative opportunities at this time.
You may be thinking: While JFNA and ICR’s work is indeed exemplary, aren’t there other members of the greater Jewish community who need assistance at this time? Certainly everyone needs help in some way during the current global pandemic, but my peers and I implore the Jewish community not to forget us. Rather, help us emerge from this crisis positioned to provide the leadership for which we have been preparing. The JFNA and Israel Campus Roundtable programming demonstrates ways in which to engage our generation and teach us the skill of pushing forward in dark times, a skill we will surely need to keep our community strong now and in our post-pandemic world.
Goldie Davoudgoleh is a first-year student in Brandeis University’s Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, pursuing a masters in Jewish Professional Leadership and the Social Impact MBA at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. She currently lives in Lexington, MA.