The URJ’s Emerging Young Adult Initiatives Community of Practice
By Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg and Adam Freedman
Judaism is constantly evolving, addressing new challenges and needs, and a key aspect of synagogue life is setting a vision for tomorrow. Consistent is our yearning to plant seeds for the next generation, but that pathway to doing so is often unclear.
This yearning pushed us at Temple Sinai Congregation of Toronto to prioritize congregational programming that would engage and inspire young Jewish adults. We joined the URJ’s Emerging Young Adult Initiatives Community of Practice (“CoP”) in order to explore best practices for addressing the needs of our young adult cohort and to connect with congregations facing parallel concerns. This initiative brought together seven Reform congregations for an 18-learning month process. We learned from experts in the field of young adult engagement, supported and drew support from the other congregations in the cohort, and launched a pilot to apply our learnings to our congregational needs and landscape. We viewed the CoP as a means to invest in our congregation’s continuing history.
Indeed, ways of engaging young adults in our congregation have evolved as a result of our participation in the CoP process, such as our successful “Next Generation” initiative. Programming has included tikkun olam service opportunities, such as a day of building with Habitat for Humanity; dynamic social gatherings, like Sushi in the Sukkah; and a high-profile networking/professional development series. With the support of H. Lawrence and Beverly Fein and Family, we have been able to send a delegation of young adults to Europe for the Young Adult March of the Living for the past three years, an experience that has inspired us to lead our people with strength. Our participation in the CoP has helped to capitalize on our already successful young adult initiatives, contributing to the development and growth of many of these programs.
A highlight of the CoP process was the formation of our Next Generation Tzedakah Investment Club. The young leaders of our community are mainly new professionals, looking to establish themselves, and their concerns include securing a meaningful job, purchasing a new home, and investing funds for the first time. As a synagogue community, we realized we could address such concerns through a Jewish lens. Further, we felt we could look at the Jewish responsibilities to give back.
As a first step, we identified an established member of the community to mentor our group. Congregant David Beutel, an investor, entrepreneur, and overall mensch, was an ideal fit. Next, we invited young leaders to join us. Participants needed to be members of the congregation between the ages of 22-39, and everyone was asked to contribute $72 to the tzedakah fund. Fourteen people joined the group that quickly took on the form of a chavurah. We met every other month, each time focusing on a unique topic. Experts were brought in to share their investment knowledge, teaching the group the basics of investment, stocks and bonds, real estate, and ethical investing. As a group, we decided where to invest our funds and how to direct the proceeds.
The project was a great success, as evidenced by testimonials from its participants:
- “During school, we were active in NFTY and Hillel’s social action programming, but upon leaving school we didn’t feel as though we were ready to completely immerse ourselves in the adult Jewish community. This club has allowed us to connect with others our age in a meaningful way and become part of a Jewish community that reflects our stage in life.” – Karen Lidor and Ariel Feldman
- “Being able to learn about investment and financial planning from a Jewish framework was really interesting, and it was exciting to be able to invest in the future of Temple Sinai and the Jewish community as a whole, knowing that the seeds we plant today will grow and sustain future projects at Temple Sinai. I have learned valuable lessons about tzedakah and the different ways to give and their meanings.” – Jaime Reich
- “Being part of the Temple Sinai Next Gen Tzedakah Investment Club has been a great way for me to meet members of the Temple Sinai young professional community, interact with some brilliant experts, learn about investments, do tzedakah, and be a part of some interesting, thought-provoking discussions. I’m proud that we were able to set up a Temple Sinai fund to help provide great experiences at Temple Sinai for current and future Next Gen’ers.” – Ben Greisman
We look forward to growing the Next Generation Tzedakah Investment Club with the hope of engaging young Temple Sinai members, while simultaneously sustaining young adult programming for years to come. In doing so, we heed the interpretive words of Torah shared by Warren Buffett, who aptly stated, “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg is associate rabbi at Temple Sinai Congregation of Toronto. Adam Freedman is a proud new member of the congregation who works as an attorney with Torys LLP. Temple Sinai Congregation is a 1,600 family synagogue in midtown Toronto, presently commemorating its 60th year anniversary.
cross-posted at RJ.org Blog