[This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 26a – “Building the Jewish People – One Community at a Time”- published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.]
By Alejandro Okret
… we need to continue to increase our investment and foster the voices of young adults, so they can continue to show us the way and create the “antithesis.”
Over the last several years, there has been much talk in the community about supporting and empowering young adults and learning how to adapt to millennials, and now, Gen Z. This is great. Much more is needed if we want to make sure we will have a thriving and dynamic Jewish community in the years to come. Efforts to invest in young people have increased. More initiatives, foundations and organizations are turning to young adults and are creating the necessary space for them to forge the communities we need. This must continue to grow if we are serious about securing the next generation of communal leadership and active participation.
In his work, 19th Century German philosopher, Hegel, outlines a particular dialectical method of argument which I believe could resonate with a process we’re seeing in our greater Jewish community. In a nutshell, Hegel states that logic is comprised of three sides or moments: 1) stable definition or determination 2) sudden challenge and instability and 3) unity of both previous moments.
The first moment is the moment of stable definition or determination. This can be equated to the status quo in the Jewish community. What has worked in the past, should continue to work in the future.
The second moment, perhaps one of the most critical stages in everyday life, is one of sudden challenge and instability. It is a defiance of the status quo presented as an antithesis. In my field of work, I see this regularly represented by people in their 20s and early 30s paving the way and demonstrating what they think Jewish communities should look like. Be it home-based programming, peer-led programming, spiritual emerging communities, intentional communities, you name it, there is a movement that needs to be heard, and more than anything, understood. Hegel talks of this moment being a dialectical time. The stakes are at their highest at this point. Does the community decide to cancel out the thesis (the “old way of doing things”) or adapt, learn and update its forms and embrace change?
As Hegel lays out, the third moment should be spectacular, or at least it has all the potential to be that way. Here, as Hegel explains in The Encyclopedia Logic, we see the unity of both previous determinations, or a synthesis. It is an understanding of how best to move forward. In terms of the Jewish community, I think it is the affirmation that we are ready to embrace alternative and novel ways to move forward, especially when it comes to investing in the next generation. Will the latter succeed all the time? Most definitely not. We need to be ready to appreciate this, learn from it and keep pushing forward. The synthesis will become the thesis and the process will start all over again, making sure we keep evolving and rediscovering our bonds to Judaism and the Jewish community.
Over the past decade, through my involvement at Moishe House and the work we do with people in their 20s and early 30s, I’ve seen the positive impact and results of empowering them. Investing, believing in and entrusting these groups of people can only be beneficial for the general wellbeing and continuity of the Jewish community.
Moishe House has now become the global leader in peer-led Jewish young adult engagement. Every year, tens of thousands of young Jews experience innovative, engaging, exciting Jewish programming. All programming is planned and executed by their peers, creating countless opportunities for young adults to connect with their own Jewish identities, their friends and their wider communities.
Moishe House works to meet the interests of young adults in the Jewish community, both the engaged and the not yet engaged. Moishe House has provided training for these community builders through Moishe House Jewish Learning Retreats and created a platform for former residents and other strong leaders to host Moishe House-style programs from their own homes.
As a result of the training and experience that the community builders receive from Moishe House, they see themselves as leaders and role models in the Jewish community who are equipped to create meaningful Jewish experiences. And the model of empowering the leaders themselves is working. Through external evaluations, we learned that before their involvement with Moishe House, only 32% of our community builders considered themselves leaders or role models in the Jewish community, compared to over twice as many (81%) who do so after participating.
We have also seen that young adults want to contribute to the future of their Jewish community. Over half of respondents (52%) reported that Moishe House introduced them to new Jewish organizations or activities in which they now participate. Furthermore, one in three people (31%) reported that Moishe House led them to take on leadership roles within other Jewish organizations or activities.
Moishe House, is of course, just one example of how we can embrace the way things are, challenge assumptions and give space for new ways and, then, create space for both to intersect and overlay. I strongly believe we need to continue to increase our investment and foster the voices of young adults, so they can continue to show us the way and create the “antithesis.” We must nurture their vision and passion. They will help us produce a stronger and more sustainable future.
In the Talmud, Masechet Yevamot, we learn that it is a Mitzvah to say what will be heard, as well as it’s a Mitzvah not to say what won’t be heard.
I believe that young people are delivering a very strong message, a message that aims at understanding how Jewish communities need to keep being dynamic, ever-changing, adapting, daring to learn and create spaces for everyone. It is our responsibility to make sure we can hear them. Otherwise, they won’t be able to say what won’t be heard.
These challenging times offer us the opportunity to reflect on how we, collectively and individually, decide to evolve, change, adapt and grow stronger. It is now when we chose how we invest in innovation, fresh approaches and the next round of contingency plans.
I believe it is key to maintain an openness to new ideas, or in other words a challenge to the existing norm, especially being driven by Millennials and Gen Z. Younger populations have demonstrated an ability to pivot and adapt quickly. This readiness demonstrates a path to what can be translated as a future compromise between what exists and what could exist.
With all its tremendously sad and tragic impact, COVID 19 presents us an opportunity to give more stakeholders a place at the table, to think in different ways and assess our own roles in the Jewish community.
Alejandro Okret is based in London and serves as Moishe House’s Chief Global Officer. Moishe House has become the global leader in peer-led Jewish young adult engagement and through its various community building program models, engages more than 70,000 unique young adults in Jewish life each year. The organization provides an important pathway for young adults to take part in- and create – Jewish homes and communities.
eJewish Philanthropy is the exclusive digital publisher of the individual Peoplehood Papers essays.