I once heard someone say in jest (or mockery): “When it comes to understanding and reacting to trends, most non-profit organizations lag five years behind the for-profit world. Jewish organizations are another five years behind the secular non-profits.” Not so funny when you think about it—but all too often true.
I see the essay from Jewish Megatrends as an attempt to catch up with this lag time—by identifying trends that need to be addressed proactively—rather than the reactive nature for which the Jewish communal world has been all too well known.
When I founded Tribe 12 in 2010, it was specifically to identify and even predict important trends that influence the lives and world view of people in their 20s and 30s—and then find ways to address them through a Jewish lens. Although Tribe 12’s work certainly fits within the propositions laid forth in the essay, especially in the realm of “community” (by creating connections between people with common interests and needs), I feel our approach differs in one important manner. We are not starting by looking at Jewish trends when it comes to 20s and 30s, because my belief is that is already making an assumption that it is not my place to make. Although recent studies suggest that there is still a great deal of pride from millennials in being Jewish, it is also less and less their primary or even one of their primary identity factors. For this reason we start by identifying megatrends for millennials—all millennials, not just Jewish ones. Each project we run is in direct response to one of these accepted trends. Entrepreneurship; LGBTQ rights; Professional advancement; Identity development during the transitive years of young adulthood. (There are additional trends we have identified—particularly social justice and spirituality—which fit into the Megatrends propositions. Tribe 12 is not currently directly addressing these trends—instead directing those who are seeking this to partner organizations in the community.)
By identifying the identity factors that are essential to the lives of our constituents we are addressing fundamental needs—not just tertiary choices that are non-essential (which is, whether we want to admit it or not, what Judaism has become to some, particularly those who are younger and in mixed heritage relationships.) If we are then able to weave Judaism into that aspect of their identity as it forms, we believe it will remain part of that aspect of identity long-term…and can influence Jewish choices in other parts of their identity as well.
The difference in approaches is subtle—do we start by looking at Jewish Megatrends or general secular megatrends? In fact, in many situations, the same conclusions have been reached. What is of prime importance is staying timely and relevant. A book of essays or a sociological study from 2013 may already be dated. Trends, like technology, change more rapidly today than it did even 10 years ago. It is important to continue to do the necessary research to stay current, but at the same time we need to roll out responses—thoughtfully, but also with the sense of urgency that is required.
Ross Berkowitz is the founder and Executive Director of Tribe 12, a Philadelphia based organization that engages 20s and 30s in Jewish community today so they will choose to stay involved in Jewish life long term. Inspired through multiple long term Israel experiences, 15 formative years in Habonim Dror, and studying the history and sociology of religion, Ross is a social entrepreneur with a background as a camp director, a Hillel professional, an educator and an activist in the Jewish community.