Open Letter to Jewish Educators

When it comes to young professionals, our biggest failure as Jewish educators is that we are – “educators.” This post is an open letter to anyone who is engaging Millennials with Jewish life.

For Israelis who may not know, when you are Jewish and live abroad – you have to choose to be Jewish andĀ live Jewish lives (whatever that means to you). Thus, unlike children (who’s parents choose Jewish education for them), once people finish high school, it is their own choice whether to belong to the community or not.

“Being Jewish” is irrelevant to many young professionals

And many choose not to. Research shows a mind-boggling rate of assimilation among Jewish young adults, especially in North America. Yes, they choose not to belong. Is this because they have something against the Jewish community? Jewish identity? Tradition? The State of Israel? I would claim not necessarily.

I agree with those who claim that the reason they choose not to belong anymore is that their Jewish identity is irrelevant to them! Meaning, we as a people, with our communities, organizations and networks – failed to be meaningful and value-adding to them.

And I agree with them!

From my extensive work with this target audience, I came to learn and understand the point of view that many of them have.

Many people study and analyze Millennials, Gen Y and Gen-Z (let’s just call them “young professionals”, please). How they think, how they act, what’s important for them, their values, behavior, consumer habits, etc. And the truth is, they are quite diverse and hard to reduce to simple truths (you know… people). However, there is at least one aspect I found where they have something in common.

As young professionals living in today’s modern world, they all have to build their careers in a world-of-work of what that is very different than the one they were educated and prepared for. Whether they care about money, social impact, Tikkun Olam, travel, sport, technology or anything else – they will have to adjust to today’s labor market, in order to survive and thrive.

And it is exactly here where they feel very alone:

“Why do I switch jobs every two years?”… “Why can’t I find a good and stable place to work?”… “A good company to belong to with an opportunity to make an impact?”… “Is there something wrong with me?”… “Am I missing other opportunities?”…

Now, add this:

“The Career center from my college won’t really help me after my first job”… “My parents don’t get me”… “And how the hell will my Jewish community and my Rabbi help me?!”

Now, add student loans and debt-collection (again, especially in North America), and you get quite a lot extra pressure in your 20’s. Fun, fun, fun. And on top of that, everyone is trying to sell them solutions. Because of course, we all want to influence andĀ educate them!

From “change agents” to servants

People who choose to be educators are by definition value-driven, and usually sacrifice alternatives in order to do what’s important for them. This is something to admire. No less. The problem is – when we educate, we “sell.” I know, it is not your intention. You want to help people! The thing is, as a marketing person, I came to learn that it’s less about what we say, and more about what they hear. So, the best way to “sell” is to make the customers want to buy.

Thus, instead of thinking like “change agents”, I suggest we should insist on serving our target audience of young professionals. In my opinion, helping them navigate through those crucial years of personal and professional development would be meaningful for them, for decades to come.

And no one is more suited for this task than the wonderful people who already chose to devote themselves to Jewish formal and informal education, and community service.

Is this an opportunity?

That’s why I started helping so many Jewish young professionals with their career journey, since this is the one common denominator they all have. Understanding what they want for themselves, defining goals, understand how they could get there, how to think like a business unit in today’s world of work, like an entrepreneur in the on-demand economy, and how to try and pursuit greatness (whatever it may be for them) instead of just chasing happiness, and by that live a more meaningful life.

Shouldn’t that be a role for Jewish educators and community leaders? To serve as life mentors? Isn’t our tradition and heritage full of life lessons to share, especially with them and where they are at in life? Help them unlock their own potential? Isn’t Israel a unique place with a get-out-of-your-comfort-zone culture, which is poised to be an empowering place of inspiration and energy? Thinking like an entrepreneur – isn’t that a great and unique opportunity?

What do you think?

PS #1: As someone who works with many international audiences, this is not just a Jewish problem, which only emphasizes how much “serving before educating” is a true opportunity.

PS #2: I believe that existing programs such as Masa Israel Journey, Onward Israel, TAMID and others are uniquely poised to lead in connecting young professionals to Israel by adding a unique and empowering value to their participants beyond “educating” and “providing an experience”, if they see themselves that way.

PS #3: I believe that when you serve a community and educate, you can’t help others and expect them to get your education and values in return. You first give, and never condition the service. It’s all about giving beyond your charge.

About the Author
Assaf is passionate about promoting business in and with Israel, helping and mentoring entrepreneurs, advising young professionals with career planning and self-fulfillment, and more. Assaf acts as a brand ambassador of Israel as 'Start-Up Nation', speaking to thousands of businessmen, investors, entrepreneurs, young professionals, students and others, both in Israel and around the world. Assaf also works as a business development and marketing consultant to Israeli start-ups and others.
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