Belonging to a community plays a big part in our Jewish identity. The question is: what kind of community are we talking about here?
Millennial members who haven’t settled down to life with a family don’t put down roots in the same way as those doing battle with nappies, school runs and mountains of laundry. Hence engaging younger members does not only revolve around a particular local community.
Rather engagement is with strands of activity that speak to young people, wherever they are. While, Shabbat does create some geographic constraints, religious services are just one part of what communities offer.
Here's my recipe for a “Young United Synagogue” community: social activity for those wanting to unwind and meet new people; business networking opportunities to support developing careers; social action and rewarding volunteering roles.
There’s also food related events for those who live to eat; residential trips to get away from it all with like-minded people; stimulating, sophisticated education in a relaxed environment; and, of course, access to meaningful spiritual expression with services to match.
This (partial) list is a long one which means that for young people to feel a real sense of belonging they require a welcoming “community” that transcends the walls of their local shul. If you want to enjoy next year’s Cholent-Fest, trips abroad, business leaders seminar, spa retreat, restaurant evenings etc, you’ll be visiting any of a number of venues which make up the larger virtual community designed to suit you.
This is a healthy and creative way to be thinking about young communities. The model may look different to the traditional community, but the ethos that underpins it is not. Young and old we are united by shared core values which we carry with us for life and look to pass on to future generations.
What price one puts on this is another legitimate question and it’s one that we are looking at very hard right now. The under-30 membership of the US stands at approximately 2,000 members, with roughly half of these belonging to our discounted young membership scheme. Although this represents a significant growth in the young membership of the US, we are anything but complacent. We recognise the need to deliver one of the core recommendations of our recent Strategic Review: to reassess the membership packages for new and newly married members.
The creative thinking is far from over…
Josh Zaitschek is the “Young US” Rabbi