I belong to a generation much under scrutiny at the moment. We "millennials" - as we are called by the demographers - are vital in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. In 2008, U.S. President Barack Obama carried us 66-33 and for the first time the youth outvoted the seniors. Our profile that marketers like to generate show a progressive generation interested in social action and justice, and willing to invest to ensure a better tomorrow.
The U.S. political campaigns are not the only people interested in tapping into our generation. In the Jewish world there has been a long-fought struggle by the establishment to try to integrate the new generation into Jewish communal life.
Both in the U.K. and U.S. (where I am lucky enough to have lived), there is a focus on reaching out to and training the next generation. The millennials' responses to this outreach fall within three categories:
First, there are the disinterested masses. They see this effort as part of the normal background noise of living in today's society. There is no connection between the community they live in and the things needed for it to survive.
Second, there are those who are brought onboard. They are the community's successes, who are helped to establish their place and role within their own society.
Third, there are the lampooners. While aware of the efforts the community makes, the lampooners sit back and ridicule it for not doing enough to make space for them. The lampooners have one positive experience within the Jewish framework and make do with it. They then expect that experience to be replicated in every other interaction they have with the community. And when the machinery of the Jewish community is revealed to them – in its true and realistic form – they mock its operators for not having the tools to engage them. And then they walk away.
As the generations change, and along with it the types of giving available, there are hundreds of challenging questions that need to be answered. These questions revolve around issues of federation versus fragmentation, lay leadership and philanthropy, supporting segments of a community with welfare services that choose not to contribute, and the challenge of funding Jewish education.
The millennials rightly demand to be included in these discussions, yet the fact remains that only those who show up make decisions.
The Jewish communal establishments, on both sides of the Atlantic, are anything but perfect. Yet they are trying to reach out. This effort needs to be recognized and responded to by the millennial generation rather then mocked or simply ignored. We grew up with some sort of framework that was accessible to us through our local synagogues, schools, Jewish communal centers or youth movements. By ignoring or mocking, we segregate ourselves away from the decisions that will affect our children and those around us. We put our hope that others will answer the call of communal service as we were too sardonic or bored to do so ourselves.
So in this election cycle as we are courted by for our votes and told that we matter and are vital for the future of the country, we would do well to remember that our involvement in our communities matters more now, in these turbulent times, than it ever has before.
Joel Braunold is a Bnei Akiva alumnus and a former staff member of OneVoice Europe who is currently studying at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
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