Strategies for Engagement: How Do We Embrace Millennial Jews?
In my work with congregations and organizations, invariably the most pressing issue involves the issue of outreach. Namely, how do we retrieve folks who have left the community or who have yet to enter institutional life? The fastest growing sector in Jewish life is represented by the Religious “Nones,” folks who have “dropped out” from formerly affiliating with the community.1
Most notably, many Jews have become averse to the act of affiliating. The cost of “doing Jewish” has represented a major roadblock to being connected. Feelings of being disconnected from synagogue life are tied to negative images and memories.
I want to introduce four strategies that hopefully will be useful for embracing Millennials:
Focus on One on One Relationships: Institutional Judaism is at times menacing, as folks don’t want to encumbered by the pressures and demands of “corporate” affiliation. One escape valve is the idea of a buddy system, where someone is their guide and counsel as they seek to connect with the community. An insider who helps shepherd a young couple or new single member along the pathway toward affiliation and participation best manages decoding the community or unpacking the culture of a synagogue.
Make Connections: Bringing Millennials together is an essential piece to the process of engagement! A younger cohort of new members or prospective members builds a key connection for new families and singles to feel that they already can belong to their own community. Sharing Jewish life-cycle events, ceremonies, and festivals allows new members a way to connect with the larger framework of the synagogue experience!
Torah at the Center: Moments of Jewish learning are significant to the process of engaging and welcoming new persons. The power of text is a significant ingredient in expanding one’s understanding of the richness and vitality of Judaism. The act of study is so essentially Jewish that we must continue to always embrace it!
Making Demands: There is a tendency to ask little of those we are seeking to welcome into the community. In fact, the literature on inclusion and engagement consistently suggests that we often ask too little of those who are seekers! Learning about traditions and ritual practice ought to be encouraged. Challenging the seeker ought not to be seen as a burden but rather as an opportunity to acquire the skills and tools essential for a religious connection.
1 See my work on “religious nones”: http://www.thewindreport.com/2015/09/25/the-religious-nones