What’s Next for Reform Jewish Millennials?

Inside Leadership

What’s Next for Reform Jewish Millennials?

Young people pose and smile

I’m immensely proud of the young adult communities that have flourished and found followings outside the walls of their congregations…. These programs – dinners, learning sessions, real relationships with clergy, innovative payment models – are answering the call to serve our young people every day of the week.

But here’s the opportunity: these programs are separate. Our ponds don’t yet have streams that connect them. It’s time for the URJ to connect, expand, and enhance these separate communities into a North American network.

-- Rabbi Rick Jacobs, A River Flows from Eden: Address to the 2017 URJ Biennial

Although news stories and sociological surveys continue to portend dread about non-affiliation among young Jews, Reform Jewish millennials and the 20s and 30s Reform communities they’re creating are bucking the trend.

This High Holiday season thousands of our millennials across the country attended Reform services geared especially for them – replete with cool locations, hip music, and timely sermons that offered plenty of food for thought. Sukkot, too, brought experiential get-togethers under the stars, all a sign of the renaissance of a revitalized and reinvigorated religious and cultural expression for millennial Jews.

All this activity is happening at a particularly exciting moment for our movement, a time in which our 20s and 30s communities are coming together to share ideas and engender new modes of outreach and engagement. In Houston, for example, Rabbi Chase Foster at Congregation Beth Israel and Rabbi Josh Fixler of Congregation Emanu El, working with the URJ and RAC-TX, will host a dinner this month at which Reform millennial leaders and members of both communities will meet to discuss Jewish social justice with Ellen Cohen, Houston’s mayor pro tem of Houston. It’s important we follow Rabbis Foster’s and Fixler’s lead to ensure our next generation of leaders is always included “in the room where it happens.”

The power of leaders coming together makes these connections and opportunities possible. In fact, I first met Rabbi Foster during an Active Learning Network (ALN) that brought together leaders from our Reform 20’s/30’s groups and synagogues from throughout North America to learn from one another, create shared accountability, and dream up the future of Reform Judaism.

Building on the successes and relationships that resulted from that collaboration, we’re excited to announce that in November we’ll launch a new set of Active Learning Networks open to current and prospective leaders of Reform 20s and 30s. The new ALNs will run for shorter time periods than previous ALNs and will involve smaller groups focused in these and other areas:

  • How to get a digital marketing intern
  • How to start a 20s and 30s community
  • Dreaming and thinking big on behalf of the Reform Movement

We’re also recruiting participants for the URJ’s first giving circle for Reform millennials – Emergent Givers. With pilot programs in San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York, Emergent Givers will contribute funds, ideas, and energy to support the mission of Reform Judaism and its endeavors to do good, working collectively to create the world as it should be. Open to URJ program alumni and community members from 23-35, Emergent Givers will not only create another rich community for millennials, but also will feed the pipeline with new, high quality, and engaged lay leaders for our movement. If you’re interested in this opportunity, please email me.

It’s been nearly a year since Rabbi Jacobs told us “Our ponds don’t yet have streams that connect them. It’s time for the URJ to connect, expand, and enhance these separate communities into a North American network.” As a movement, can be proud of facing this challenge head-on, and proud, too, of the successes we’ve already experienced. As 5779 begins, let’s remember we’re on the right path, and recommit to connecting our ponds to streams, ultimately creating an ocean for our millennials that’s filled with compassion, empowerment, engagement, motivation, and dedication. Shana tovah.

To learn more or indicate an interest in participating in any of the new Active Learning Networks, complete this form.

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Sam Rubin is the presidential executive fellow at the Union for Reform Judaism. Prior to this role, Sam lived in Warsaw, Poland, as a Fulbright Research Fellow, where he studied Polish-Jewish relations and contributed to The Forward.

Sam Rubin
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