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Jewish millennials, even those growing up within establishment communities, have flocked to alternative and nontraditional experiences in increasing numbers, seeking connection that is not quite being fulfilled by traditional synagogue programming. Their bond with Judaism may not be in question – but the way that connection manifests itself is up for debate.
Evan Miller believes one way synagogues can reach their millennial populations is through promoting profound connection and community using the teachings of Jewish mysticism.
When Evan lost his father at the age of 17, he sought comfort and self-improvement in a number of different ways. Though such a loss could’ve been a devastating setback, for Evan it set off a period of self-reflection and personal growth.
From Zen meetings on Long Island to visiting Tzfat in Israel, from a rabbi’s book recommendations to services at Romemu on the Upper West Side, Evan has put in the effort and elbow grease toward achieving his own personal Jewish mindfulness. As he puts it, he is currently “seeing [life] unfold in new and amazing ways.”
This journey of spiritual seeking and striving for community led Evan to become a counselor at URJ Eisner Camp, a leader in his college fraternity, and a ropes course trainer for team-building programs. He also drew comfort and community from his home congregation of Temple Rodeph Sholom in New York City. It’s no coincidence, then, that he joined a cadre of religious school alumni and Jewish professionals to collaborate on the creation of the Jewish millennial organization Tribe, which seeks to create a tightly bonded Jewish community outside of a normal institutional context.
This year, Evan joined the URJ’s JewV’Nation Fellowship to create a class he calls Exploring Jewish Mysticism.
The class, once fully developed, will discuss “foundational aspects of Jewish mysticism, particularly Kabbalah.” Composed of Torah study and other Jewish texts, music, and guided meditation, Evan says his hope is that the 10-session curriculum “empowers those who may have felt disconnected or alienated from Judaism.” He believes that, in time, the class will be replicable in other communities as a means of engaging Jewish millennials who struggle to find connection to their local brick-and-mortar establishments. In his own words, Evan thinks mystical teachings can reinforce a “style of Jewish expression that millennials can engage with comfortably.”
Evan has gotten much out of the Jew V’Nation Fellowship thus far, including networking and prototyping skills, as well as honing his ability to pinpoint a target audience. He continues to work both on the curriculum of the course and how to properly scale and grow the class over time. Not surprisingly, Evan’s goals align with that growth model: of success first in New York City, and then spreading across North America.
As a staffer on a number of Birthright Israel trips, Evan is keenly aware of how important the feeling of belonging is when it comes to “young Jews who have not had much Jewish upbringing.” Though creation of his class Exploring Jewish Mysticism, he’s doing his part to help promote that sense of connection, in a creative way, as part of his own journey.
This profile is part of an ongoing series highlighting projects from the inaugural cohort of the URJ’s JewV’Nation Fellowship. For more information about Evan’s project and the JewV’Nation Fellowship, visit urj.org/jewvnation-fellowship.