Looking Ahead: Engaging Millennials at a New Life Stage

Looking Ahead: Engaging Millennials at a New Life Stage

This is the first in a series of messages about the way we are thinking about our work in 2020 and beyond.

It was the poet Mark Strand who said, “The future is always beginning now.” As one transformative decade ends and a new one begins, our team at Federation is stepping into 2020 with this sentiment in mind. We want to take a strategic look at the role we can play in strengthening one of the nation’s largest and most vibrant Jewish communities. This work includes looking at how we can help successfully engage millennials—a cohort that currently includes 23-38 year-olds—in meaningful and impactful ways as they continue to age through critical life stages.

Of course, the topic of millennials is nothing new. Coming out of our strategic plan, we identified this population as a critical one for the Greater Washington Jewish community. But rather than look only at the immediate term, we also want to take a broader, more comprehensive look at our engagement efforts. We are asking ourselves how do we help engage young adults, young couples, and new families, both today and over time?

A recent study released by the Pew Research center (summarized in this article) focuses on religion and millennials in America. At its core, it suggests that millennials who did not engage with organized religion in their 20’s and 30’s may continue to stay away from organized religion even as they get married and have children. They are hungry for community and connection, to be sure. They are also eager to pass on a set of values to their children and find meaning and guidance as they journey through life. Unlike adults in generations past, however, millennials are not automatically returning to the faith communities in which they grew up—be it to find spirituality, community, or otherwise—in part because they never had a compelling connection, to begin with. Organized religion was not a central part of their lives as it had been for previous generations.

This is true across the United States as well as within the Jewish community. A majority of today’s young adults were raised without a strong Jewish affiliation, which means that their participation in Jewish life will be neither habitual nor guaranteed. Our job, therefore, is to speak and appeal to millennials across life stages and ensure that no matter when or in what way they turn to the Jewish community, we are there to help them find what they are looking for.

We need to think critically about the evolving needs of the millennial generation and then strengthen the programs and networks that will help meet those needs. To start, we can double down on our efforts to make Jewish preschool and Jewish day school accessible to more families. We can expand informal learning opportunities like those through PJ Library and help more kids go to Jewish summer camp. We can help adults continue their Jewish and spiritual exploration in the company of others. And, through organizations like Moishe House and GatherDC, we can help people to meet one another and form the communities they want for themselves.

Indeed, as more and more millennials in Greater Washington begin to ask big questions, we want to be ready to help them find satisfying answers. To do this, we must leverage our role as a Federation to bring together the people and organizations who are each working to engage millennials in different ways. We want to continue to spur collaboration and cooperation within our community and help create a cohesive landscape of attractive and meaningful opportunities for engagement.

For millennials, the future has already begun. We know that they are stepping into new life stages and into this new decade by looking for the things that matter most—a sense of purpose, meaning, identity, and belonging. As they do, you can rest assured that we will be working to help them, and everyone in our community, lead the lives they envision.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year,