In the words of the late Elie Wiesel: “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilisation, no society, no future.” We know that memories are essential to engaging the next generation. We may well remember our first Jewish trip away from home, but there seem to be a number of challenges in the way young people engage with Jewish life.
Perhaps this is the right time to pose a couple of questions. Are we creating enough positive memories? Where, in the midst of social media, school and university exams or even the rise of anti-semitism on campus, do we find the space to create the meaningful experiences that shape young people’s Jewish identity?
For any organisation, self-reflection is important. So, as Tribe approaches its 13th year, we have been considering how to develop. We recently carried out a strategic review, exploring how best to engage the next generation and to ensure that the United Synagogue provides the best possible programmes for its children, young people and young families. Our aim is clear – creating a future for our communities through engaging, educating and inspiring the next generation. How do we ensure we make this a reality?
We have learnt that if you engage early, it’s possible to establish an identity that is lasting. If we create memories while young, there is a greater chance the engagement will be for life. We are proud of our Jewish identity and it’s something we want to instil in our children. Too often we see the younger generation disenfranchised and disconnected from their communities. Our task is to invest in events and programmes filled with experiences that stay with people long after the initial activity. I am not suggesting that if a child attends a programme aged five then they will be engaged for life. We must have a full range of holistic community programmes with strong role models.
We also know that no two communities are the same; each has its own set of social pressures and norms. Therefore, our challenge is to facilitate centrally but deliver locally. Our central vision will manifest in numerous different ways across our local communities. We want every one of them to become unique places delivering inspiring educational activities that engage our future leaders.
It is also important that we communicate what we are doing, not only to those who take part in our programmes, but also to their parents; they too must be fully aware of Tribe’s mission and work. Parents have the most important role in shaping a young person’s Jewish identity with education and Jewish experiences first taking root in the home.
That is why we recognise the importance of excellent communication with families. However, this is only one part of the equation. Given the importance of Jewish schools to Jewish life today, we also work hard to bind synagogues and schools together. This is an essential three-way partnership. It is fantastic that so many in our community have such high regard for Jewish schools. We look forward to increased partnership between our institutions to ensure that pupils are receiving a consistent message at school, in shul and at home.
The creation of life-shaping memories doesn’t end the second young Jews leave school. If we are to revitalise and engage the next generation, we cannot stop providing for our young people.
We will continue to work with other organisations to support young families, teens, gap year and university students and young professionals.
University is a complex balance of academic challenges alongside personal growth and development. Post-university, getting right the work-Jewish life balance is no easier. We must be ready and waiting to welcome back our university graduates and others to the community. We have put efforts into our United Friday night dinners, discounted membership and Birthright trips.
This is just the start of the programming needed for our young people to re-engage with their local communities after spending time away.
The memorable experiences we create today will build not just a Jewish future but a truly engaged Jewish future. As we celebrate our barmitzvah year, we can never forget that it is our obligation to grab every opportunity to create a future for our communities.