Reaching out to the next generation of Jews in Central Florida
Throughout the Jewish communal world, there is no hotter topic this month then the Pew Research Center Study called “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” released in early October. The study confirmed what most of us have been watching over the past several years—a shift in the way Jews see themselves and the way they relate to the Jewish community. While American Jew overwhelmingly say that they are proud to be Jewish and have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people, the study shined a light on the changing nature of Jewish identity in the United States. These shifts are especially pronounced among America’s youngest adult Jews.
“The changing nature of Jewish identity stands out sharply when the survey’s results are analyzed by generation. Fully 93 percent of Jews in the aging Greatest Generation identify as Jewish on the basis of religion (called “Jews by religion” in this report); just 7 percent describe themselves as having no religion (“Jews of no religion”). By contrast, among Jews in the youngest generation of U.S. adults—the Millennials—68 percent identify as Jews by religion, while 32 percent describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.”
The Pew Study has provided sociologists, demographers, and journalists a wealth of data to absorb, analyze, and debate. Unlike similar studies conducted by Jewish organizations, its reverberations have spread well beyond the Jewish community. The Pew Study will be at the center of attention at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations next month and will inform many policy decisions for Jewish communal organizations, primarily in the area of working with young people. As excited as I am about the new data that will guide us in the coming years, we, the practitioners in the Jewish communal field, have seen the trends and have started addressing them. I am very excited that for several years now, the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando has been engaging young Jews in meaningful activities and interactions. Even more so, I am pleased that over the past year we have focused our attention on designing an innovative approach to connect the Jewish Millennials to the Jewish community. We know that young people who feel a sense of belonging to the Jewish community are more likely to become long-term residents of Greater Orlando and raise their families here. They are more likely to deepen their commitment to Judaism by joining a synagogue, bringing up their children as Jews, sending them to a Jewish pre-school and day school, and giving to Jewish causes.
This month, we have launched Our Jewish Orlando(OJO). OJO is our response to a burning question “Why and how to be Jewish in 21st century United States of America?” A group of six men and women representing a cross-section of the young Jewish population in Greater Orlando have met over several months to design a platform that would shape and sustain a lifelong commitment to Jewish life and philanthropy for the next generation of Jews in Central Florida. OJO is a work in progress, and for now I would like to say that there will be multiple opportunities for meaningful connections for everybody who is young and wants to participate. The group’s first signature event, Torah on Tap, was a huge success. Almost 50 young men and women attended the event at the Hangar Bar & Grille in College Park where they mixed and mingled with other young professionals. In addition, Rabbi Hillel Skolnik from South Orlando Jewish Congregation led an informal discussion connecting the weekly Torah portion to our present-day challenge of building a vibrant young Jewish community.
As OJO grows, it will focus on fostering a sense of community for the betterment of Jewish Orlando as a whole. Its activities will aim at establishing connections and relationships among the young members of the Jewish community and with its agencies and synagogues. I congratulate the visionary OJO committee led by two dynamic Federation board members, Alan J. Kronenberg and Scott Abramson, on an outstanding job of designing this initiative. I know that this group has great things on the horizon and we will continue to share with you all that they have in store.
Another initiative aimed at young Jews is our new program for young Jewish communal professionals who work within our agencies and synagogues. We brought together more than a dozen young Jewish communal professionals from nine local agencies and synagogues for a professional development program that will create a new synergy among our communal institutions. This energetic group plans to meet monthly and we look forward to seeing great benefits coming from their collaboration.
And of course, Federation’s Bornstein Leadership Development Program continues to be an incubator of the future leaders of this Jewish community. Responding to the changing needs of the community, we have made changes in the structure of the program, and the 2014 Bornstein class will start in early December.
Our community’s young people are the key to the future of Jewish Orlando and the Jewish Federation sees it as its primary duty to encourage and assist them. I am very excited to be a part of this transformation and pledge my full attention and support.