By all accounts, young people are increasingly having their say.
According to the Pew Research Center, 66 percent of those under age 30 voted for Barack Obama, making the disparity between young voters and other age groups larger than in any presidential election since exit polling began in 1972.
And over the past decade, formal Jewish youth philanthropy programs have been launched all over North America targeting an even younger cohort. By teaching these youngsters about effective and thoughtful giving, these programs are empowering teenagers to enter an arena previously reserved for their elders.
And then there is Jewish worship.
According to a recent JTA article by Ben Harris called “Independent minyanim growing rapidly, and the Jewish world is noticing” (on our Website, jstandard.com), the organized Jewish community is beginning to understand that the small, independent worship groups springing up around the country are not a passing fad. How the community reacts – whether it treats these groups as a threat or a resource – will help shape Jewish life for years to come.
The growth of these groups occurs as synagogues struggle for members. It may well be that a new infrastructure is the key to Jewish survival – a manifestation of the readiness of young people to participate, but only in ways that are personally meaningful.
One of the hallmarks of these new groups is spirited interaction, something sadly lacking in many of our established congregations. Whether because the synagogue population is aging or because synagogues are not equipped to deal with the needs of its younger members, the new minyanim are attracting post-college, pre-marriage Jews, many of whom, says Harris, simply fell off the communal radar in the past.
What will the community do? Will it reject these young Jews, who favor participation over dues-paying and flexibility over rigid denominational choice? Will professional rabbis feel threatened by the cadre of knowledgeable lay leaders springing up to lead these minyans?
The Jewish community should, at least, keep an open mind when evaluating the importance, and desirability, of fostering these groups. For years, we have been searching for ways to attract this very cohort. If it works – if it draws young Jews into the community and, as a side benefit, invigorates existing communal institutions as well – it certainly deserves our support.