What are the most useful mental models that can help us understand the shifting patterns of current and future generations of Jews (of which I am one), given the decline in their (our) participation in traditional institutions?
- Sid Schwarz offers a paradigm that couches us as consumers and to some degree encourages thinking about us as a market (p. 14). Using business language may make the approach and its categories seem more legitimate and effective to some readers. Not to me. While I heartily agree that paying for experiences for younger Jews engenders an attitude that participation in Jewish life should be free, and decreases the perceived value of Jewish experiences, I am not convinced that treating our Jewish selves through a capitalist lens will be as fruitful as other models. I prefer to use frames like networks and systems, patterns of human activity that point toward human choices as part of natural systems.
- As a child of intermarriage who ended up becoming a rabbi, dedicating my life to Jewish learning and practice, and spending as much time in Israel as I can — I recognize that I am an outlier with regard to statistics shared in Jewish Megatrends. In my experience, intermarriage is not a threat, nor something to ‘understand’ or to take any particular action around. It is simply my reality. Continuing to frame intermarriage as a failure (p. 10) does not advance the conversation but keeps it locked in old ways of thinking.
My Jewish Baby Boomer father’s intense commitments to a covenantal mindset ensured that I grew up without a doubt to always be thinking of the underdog, to care about group process and power dynamics, to never forget about people who may not have had the same advantages in life that I have. While I disagree that ‘the only way to reach them is to make sure that the Judaism they experience as youth reflects Judaism’s millennial commitment to tzedek, justice’ (p. 26, emphasis mine), it worked for me. Similarly, my own yearning for a life of sacred purpose has fueled my decisions, and caused me to pass through many vibrant Jewish communities … still, I’m not sure that the portal of kedusha is as effective as drawing the ‘droves’ of participants Schwarz predicts (p. 37). Elat Chayyim offers incredible programming addressing this need, and has struggled to meet its bottom line for decades. There is no magic bullet for attracting Jews to any particular program.
- My question of Jewish Megatrends is: what are the outcomes that the author seeks? What, exactly, are the behaviors and attitudes that ‘success’ will indicate when GenXers and Millennials are finally involved in the renaissance of American Jewish Life (p. 7)? In my world, this renaissance is already happening. I see first-hand the ways that portals like wisdom/chochma, social justice/tzedek, community/kehillah and lives of sacred purpose/kedusha are primary ways Jews of my generation and younger are forming Jewish relationships, making life decisions, aligning with the Jewish People. I am curious to know – to what end would the author be satisfied? Is it enough that Jews like me have a ‘sense of Jewish identity’ – (a term that I find to be lacking in semantic value)? Once we ‘reach and engage’ (p. 14) these Jews, what do we want ‘them’ to do? What do they (we) themselves want for the Jewish future? Let’s paint a picture of what it looks like for us to ‘carry on the legacy of Jewish heritage and Jewish life’ (p. 19). That, to me, is an active and relevant question, and one that I hope we’ll address in March.
Rabbi Lee Moore is Director of Jewish and Organizational Learning at Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah and Senior Jewish Educator for Hillel at Kent State, serving both organizations since 2010 when she was ordained from Hebrew College. She has developed conceptual work on models such as Jewish fluency, Jewish sensibilities and applied Jewish wisdom, as well as the Jewish Sensibilities Deck.