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August 30, 2015 | 15th Elul 5775

How Can Congregations Engage and Involve Baby Boomers

The Boomer Age Wave: How Can Congregations Engage and Involve the Baby Boomers…or Else!
Response to the Presentation by Mark Goldstein

Helen Dennis
Specialist in Aging, Employment & Retirement


The following gleans information from the excellent presentation by Mark Goldstein describing the baby boomer generation, their environment and the impact of this age wave.  The intent of my presentation is to identify several elements of particular relevance to the synagogue community.


Synagogues today have an enormous opportunity.  They are well positioned to address some of the generation characteristics of boomers today. Although there is diversity among this group of 78 million ranging in age from 44 to 62, there are some general characteristics which require -- rather demand – our attention.


A. Understanding the individual boomer


  1. Boomers are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives, moving from success to significance.


Dr. Gene Cohen, Director of the Center on Aging, Health and Humanities at Georgetown University identified four developmental stages of late life (based on research of 3,000 individuals).


The first phase is a mid-life evaluation typically occurring between ages 40 and 65.  Questions that were asked:  Where have I been?  Where am I now?  Where am I going?  Individuals in the life stage have a “quest to break new ground, answer deep questions and search what is true and meaningful in their lives (The Mature Mind by Gene Cohen).


The synagogue can be “the place to go.”


  1. Many seek a spiritual awakening, that inner light that enriches their soul.


  1. They seek a Jewish experience, something they feel and can understand on a very personal level. 


  1. Boomers, in general, are more spiritual than religious.  Some seek a spiritual coach – often a Rabbi – rather than attend traditional services.


  1. They want access to experts.  They have their physician, attorney, business coach, accountant…and yes they want access to their Rabbi.


  1. One of their top priorities is health and fitness.  How does one incorporate this subject into a synagogue system?


  1. Boomers will never be “old” and typically do not relate to the term “senior.” Senior programming may or may not “fly.”


B.  The synagogue as an institution.


The institution must be flexible without “giving away the store.”  For example, perhaps synagogues need to organize clusters of spiritual Jewish coaches for their congregants, embracing such a need rather than perceiving it as a threat.


Volunteer opportunities need to be meaningful and do-able.  If the infrastructure makes success or effectiveness too difficult, the boomer volunteer is likely to walk.  


Images of aging are important.  They need to reflect not only those in their 70s and 80s, but those in their 50s and 60s who relate to images of what they aspire to be or become.  


C.  Where to begin?


Focus first on retention.  Understand your boomer congregants.  Meet them face to face. Then follow with outreach.


Consider holding focus groups and ask how well the synagogue is meeting their personal needs for meaning and spirituality.  Ask what they expect or want from the synagogue.  The key is to follow up with some action.  If not, this becomes a nice exercise with no meaning.


Consider developing a synagogue assessment tool to determine how well the synagogue’s activities, leadership, philosophy and programs are aligned with boomer priorities.  The use the information.


D.  Jewish innovation


This is what we do and have always done.  We’ve always had problem and challenges, and always have figured out better ways or solutions.


Here are just a few suggestions to create relevance and spirituality


  • Discuss the Jewish interpretation of the 1960s that includes the Vietnam War, assassinations, turmoil, student revolution and consequences.


  • What is the Jewish view on nature?  Discuss and then take an exquisite hike and return for lunch.


  • What is the Jewish view on health, fitness and longevity?


  • What is the Jewish view on business competition and Wall Street?


The time is now. 


I am confident that we will rise to the occasion to make synagogue life even more relevant and important for Jewish boomers.  If we ignore this huge cohort, they will get their needs met elsewhere.  And the synagogue will not be as strong and vibrant as it could be.


But if we pay attention, understand, be creative and innovate, Jewish boomers will have enriched lives, will be more likely to be active contributors and the synagogue community will thrive. 

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