Remember when you last heard a parent, educator, or just another community member speaking about how “today’s generation” lacks the values and dedication of the “older generation”? Well, next time you hear that, ask that person to think again. Reports show millennials are shining forward with an ever-growing commitment to values and idealism; the only catch is, we need to figure out how to tap into that idealism. Their idealism is not one that can be taken for granted; it is an idealism that needs to be met with, and engaged. That being said, it is our community’s sacred duty to find out what they prioritize and how they would like to actualize those ideals.
You may ask, who are these Millennials and why is it so important to engage them? Well, by 2020 Millennials will make up a third of the adult population in America and by 2025 they will make up 75% of the American workforce– in other words, it’s critical we study them very carefully.
Study, after study, continue to show, that Millennials are very much value driven; in some ways, far more than the previous two generations. Their idealism is manifest in their choices of products, jobs, and lifestyle. Values matter so much to us (yes, I am also a Millennial) that a study done by Deloitte, the world’s largest professional services company, shows Millennials’ values don’t change even as they progress professionally and climb the socioeconomic ladder. They stick to what they believe in and “put their money where their mouth is”; something that would seem to make a Jewish lifestyle ideal for them. The million-dollar question then becomes: how? How is it that we engage this cohort—which does not follow the same norms as other cohorts—in traditional Jewish community life.
Well, here are some suggestions:
First, Torah and value-based lives– if they are packaged and delivered correctly– are just ideal for this generation. Millennials don’t do well with an autocratic Judaism; one that takes them for granted, hands them the instructions, and walks away. They don’t like a message that says “you are part of our community, so here are the rules you are going to follow and this is how you are going to do it”. They want to understand what good it does for them; they want to know why they are doing this and what personal touch it might have. To address these needs it might be ideal to speak more about Ta’amei Ha’mitzvot– a genre of commentaries from the middle ages that teaches the meaning and rationale behind many of the mitzvoth. More classes in Machshevet Yisrael-Jewish thought to explain the philosophy behind our religion and what we do.
Secondly, Millennials’ crave belonging. We (I too am a millennial) will not just join a synagogue because we are Jewish; joining needs to mean being part of something. So much has been said about the needs for synagogues to be more welcoming. If that was true for baby boomers and generation X, it is so much more true for millennials. Some ways to do that might be giving them leadership roles, making sure they are included in programming and shaping different initiatives, and more important than anything: being warm, welcoming, and genuine.
Another important thing about Millennials is that we also need to be recognized for our individuality; we need to realize how making this particular choice affects who we are. We are not the same as the person standing next to us and would like to understand how something might be fit especially for us which brings me to the next point: choice and ease.
Once upon a time, a JNF pushkah (charity box), was good enough for everyone. Everyone can be counted on to put in their money in that pushkah so that the collective goal everyone agreed on can be achieved. One could expect communal support merely by virtue of the fact that many saw it as a worthy cause and the best way of supporting that cause. Today you would need at least 5 pushkas, as well as an explanation of how they differ and how each one might cater to what you personally value. We need more choices.
And finally: space. Millennials need their personal space. They don’t want to do everything with others. This should not be a threat or a detraction from Jewish life involvement. Not every Jewish function needs to be in a crowded room. We should open more options for phone or FaceTime chavruta, individual meditation and prayer, listening to online classes, and individual chessed (acts of kindness) projects.
Judaism has everything to be the most appealing place for Millennials; we just need to make sure that we do the packaging and delivery in a personalized and meaningful way. Judaism has been powerful and appealing for thousands of years, across a variety of cultures, geographic locations, and cultural contexts. It should be able to be appealing to every group of people—especially one that is as values and meaning-driven as Millennials—we just need to create the proper venue for success to take place.