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2019 Annual Assessment

Young Jews in the US (and young Americans) are different from older Jews (and older Americans) in several ways: (For a partial list of resources, see the endnotes).8

  • In the US today, affiliation in organized religious communities is considerably less important for communal participation than it was for the Boomer generation
  • Young Jews are more confident in their “Americanness.” They hold multiple and overlapping identities, in which “Jewish” plays a part but is not necessarily the main identity.
  • Young Jews are part of a post-ethnic shift In America where identity is constructed more than inherited. This includes the loosening of institutional control over culture, which allows for organic and grass-roots expressions.9
  • Young Jews are more historically removed from unifying memories of the Holocaust, Israel’s founding and Jewish vulnerability.
  • There is a possible shift to a view of Jewish identity and practice more in terms of “tradition” rather than “religion” or “ethnicity”, which demands less commitment.10
  • Young American Jews can no longer be “guilted” into coming to synagogue or marrying Jewish; Judaism must convince, entice, and offer value.
  • Young Jews are digital natives and live much of their lives online. This empowers small groups and individuals to innovate, while simultaneously allowing those who do not seek the full benefits of community to engage in a-la-cart and DIY Judaism.
  • Hyper-individualism and slackening trust or interest in institutions and authority leads many young Jews to eschew denominational identity and affiliation with establishment institutions. This leads to seeking alternative and more “niche” expressions of Jewish identity.
  • In an age of hyper-individualism, a consensus-based community that seeks to serve a broad range of Jews is increasingly difficult to maintain and perhaps less relevant.
  • Young Jews and young Americans in general, are delaying marriage and establishing families. as well as re-urbanizing. They are also less financially stable than the previous generation.
  • Engaging young Jews, who often feel out of place in mainstream institutions, due to low Jewish literacy or other identity components (sexual orientation, political views, etc.) requires a vastly different approach. Many of the successful initiatives we discuss embody elements of this approach. This approach has been described in terms of “disruptive innovation”, and is key to successfully engaging with those whom the current institutions cannot engage.

 

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