A proposal for engaging Jewish millennials
I will never forget my daughter's first cry. The sound of her plaintive wail, faint as it was, pulsed through my body like an electric current. My baby needs me.
Beyond maternal instinct, I think my visceral reaction spoke to a fundamental truth of human nature: People need to be needed. Though many a musical and news story has been written about misguided lovers serving the wrong paramour or cause, for the most part knowing that someone depends on us is an important facet of being human, and lends purpose to our lives.
Which brings me to Judaism. We seem to have entered a phase of Jewish life where we are pleading with, even begging, the younger generation to get involved. We try to entice them with free tickets to events, free books for their kids, and even free trips to Israel. Through these spoils, we are trying to convey a message: You are so special that we want to give you this gift, so important that you are worth this investment.
Am I alone in suspecting that sometimes they only hear half the message, which is: You are so special and so important?
In generations past, being Jewish defined an individual's destiny, if for no other reason than the greater society dictated where Jews could live, what professions we could pursue, and whom we could marry. Today, opting to live a Jewish life is indeed a choice. But isn't there a way we can get Millennials to "choose Jewish" without bribing them with stuff?
When I was in high school, a group of students was discussing their famous ancestors. One friend was related to a famous Country singer, another's mom dated a movie star, and a couple of my classmates were actual descendants of signers of the Declaration of Independence. They asked if I was related to anyone famous or historic, and I replied that I was indeed.
How many Kardashians can say that? It is a singular thing to be able to trace your roots back to the covenant at Mount Sinai. And—unlike American Idol—you don't even have to audition to make the cut. All you have to do for the audience to love you is decide I want this, and show up.
Perhaps that was the silver lining to growing up in a non-Jewish suburb. I was keenly aware of the fact that I was part of a group that constitutes just one-fifth of one percent of the world's population, and it felt like what I said or did actually might matter…and that if I opted out, I truly would be missed.
So I have a bold proposition: Let's promote Judaism as if it's the world's greatest sorority or fraternity, a place where you will find an incredible sense of global community, awesome volunteer experiences, and a lifelong sense of belonging—but also a place deserving of your passion, where you're expected to contribute your time and talents, and sometimes your cash, for the greater good.
Just like an invitation to pledge is considered an honor, let's convey to the Millennials that the chance to embrace a 3,000-year-old tradition is a rare luxury that sets them apart; that Judaism is an exclusive, historic club that not only wants them, but needs them to be an active member. They'll find it's not just a privilege to be needed.
It's a joy.