Don't moan — include us in

By Lucy Tobin, June 27, 2011

Those who like to moan about generation Y's religious hiatus need only gaze around a synagogue of a Saturday morning. Amid the kippot hiding bald patches and the kids released from children's services to scout for kiddush crisps, there might be a sprinkling of youthful newlyweds or keen 20-somethings, but not many.

Likewise, a squint at the executives of the Board of Deputies (motto "proud to represent the community" so, surely, a microcosm of British Jewry) reveals most are eligible for Freedom Passes.

"How appalling," whinge Mr and Mrs Community Elder. "They don't go to shul, they don't do their bit - yet another example of the self-obsession of youth."

But woah there, rein in the high horses. I'm a model member of generation Y (graduated into the recession: tick. Almost certainly working until I commute with a Zimmer frame due to the budget deficit: tick). And I come bearing good news: there's nothing apathetic about our engagement with Judaism. You just have to know where to look.

There might not be many 20-somethings at mainstream services but, thanks in part to the experience of running university Jewish societies, hordes are holding their own. London's Moishe House sees a quintet of young Jews host non-denominational, Friday-night dinners and study sessions. Grassroots Jews organises independent Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services for several hundred young people every year. Wandering Jews and the Carlebach Minyan - both set up by young people, for young people - meet at members' homes for prayers and meals.

We're not apathetic - you have to know where to look

Unlike some longer-established groups, these organisations are more hung up on including everyone who wants to be involved than in categorising themselves or their members.

Most weekends see young Jewish charity events, with fund- raising, socialising, partner-hunting, and talking about everything from the Middle East to the Middletons.

And then, if you branch out from the Jewish world, there is this whole other place where young Jews are loudly and lengthily debating every aspect of their religion: the internet. For a swathe of gen-Y-ers, Twitter and Facebook may have become spiritual homes but not to the exclusion of religion. Indeed, Facebook-users ask others to say tehillim for sick relatives.

Tweeters confront antisemitic ignorance or qualify anti-Israeli sentiment; share interesting Jewish articles or blogs - or just tell the world about their Seder.

Cyber messages might not be the same as bums on shul seats. They're certainly not as overtly religious as some of the alternative minyans set up in a burst a decade ago, most famously at the Saatchi Synagogue.

Yet in their proud-to-be-Jewish outlook, and their overt excitement at shouting about Judaism to such a huge online network, arguably this generation's religious character is just as radical. "Old people may occupy physical space in Jewish communities, but young people occupy cyber space," one 20-something declared to his Facebook friends the other day.

And yet most of generation Y's work goes unnoticed. Take a closer look at the BoD, where, out of some 300 full deputies, only nine are younger than 35. There is clear evidence of its need for youth input on its website, where a YouTube video is preceded by the notice: "NB the first 10 seconds of [this] video are blank." That wouldn't have happened with a digital native in charge. And yet, as recently reported in the JC, some Board members are strongly opposed to schemes aimed at recruiting youngsters.

Britain's most high-profile representative body does a very important job but, by ignoring these lively, inclusive and interested young people, it is missing out on a potent resource. It - and other social, political and cultural groups in our community - would do well to embrace generation Y's way of presenting some of British Jewry's most crucial causes to each other, and to the wider world.

Lucy Tobin is a business journalist for the Evening Standard and author of two books: 'Pimp Your Vocab' and 'A Guide to Uni Life'

Last updated: 9:27am, June 27 2011