Since my blog is titled "adventures of a Jewish 20-something," I think I would be remiss if I didn't write about this weekend's festivities. I'm talking, of course, about the 2011 YLD Big Event (the ultimate young Jewish adventure) which featured Jimmy Fallon—talk show host, comedian, musician and, as we all learned this weekend, all-around sweet guy. Read more about the event in Cindy Sher's article, which also includes her exclusive on camera interview with Jimmy!
As I've talked about on this blog before, engaging 20- and 30-somethings is a hot button issue in today's Jewish world: How do we get young Jews to feel connected to Israel? To affiliate with traditional Jewish institutions? To care about Jewish continuity, ritual and tradition? Much research backs up the fact that many young Jews are not connecting with traditional institutions like Federations. I've read about this extensively—heck, I've even written about it myself.
That said, the numbers this weekend are hard to ignore: 2,600 people attended Saturday's Big Event, almost half of whom had never before given to JUF! The event was in such high demand that it sold out quickly, and there was even a waitlist of several hundred people. This was the fourth annual Big Event, and the size of the audience and prominence of the performer has grown exponentially over the years. And as Big Event grows, the impact, dollars raised, and the size of Chicago's young Jewish community grows along with it. Maybe here in Chicago young Jews aren't quite as disconnected from Jewish life as we thought.
Admittedly, the chance to see Jimmy Fallon perform live was definitely the main draw for most people there. And I will add here that Jimmy did not disappoint—he was fabulously funny and engaging. A close second, I think, is the opportunity for a fun night out with friends (read open bar), to see friends old and new, to maybe meet that nice Jewish boy or girl you've been looking for and to check out (read gossip) about what people are wearing.
As I looked around the room the size of a football field bursting at the seams with young Jews, I also found it to be a microcosm of people I've met throughout my life. Old friends from elementary school and high school, neighbors, friends from overnight camp, college, colleagues, cousins and friends from my adult life all made an appearance. In a way, attending this one event connected me not only to my Jewish community, but also to my personal community—and that is pretty cool.
But while we were there being seen and seeing Jimmy, we also had the opportunity to learn about JUF, and what JUF does for our community. Before Jimmy hit the stage, we watched two videos: one video described the importance of helping those in need here in Chicago and in Israel, and the second featured a handful of people who were sitting in the audience talking about what being Jewish and giving back means to them. At the end, everyone who attended was asked to make a meaningful gift to JUF—it was an opportunity to put down our rum and cokes, put the pettiness of what everyone was wearing aside, and do good. Cheesy as this may sound, while people were making their pledges, I looked around the room and felt a bond with all 2,600 people, all of us holding our mini number 2 pencils and filling out the same form.
If for whatever reason you didn't make your pledge Saturday night, I encourage you to reconsider. To think about what it means to be a part of a community—to find that connection and use it for good.
All I know is, I can't wait to see what YLD has in store for next year's Big Event!