By Stephen E. Lipken
Westchester Jewish Council (WJC) in conjunction with JCC Mid-Westchester, Scarsdale, presented Rabbi Mike Uram, Executive Director and Campus Rabbi, Penn Hillel, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia in a conversation, “Current Events: Next Generation Judaism” on Tuesday, January 9 attended by approximately 150 citizens.
Uram is the author of a new book, Next Generation Judaism: How College Students Can Help Reinvent Jewish Organizations which won a National Book Award in 2016.
“Adam Simon from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, the only non-Rabbi at a gathering of 150 Rabbis at Jewish Theological Seminary said four things: ‘1) There is no longer such a thing as a Jew; 2) There is no such thing as the Jewish Community; 3) There is no such thing as a Jewish leader; 4) There is no such thing as a Jewish Institution,’” Rabbi Uram began.
“Of course, there are Jews but the boundaries and definition of who is a Jew and why someone considers themselves Jewish are different today than in the past... One synagogue is not even a community but series of networks and communities. There is something as a Jewish leader but the fantasy of being up front as a leader to declare the truth about Judaism…That kind of leadership is over. Institutions are no longer the decision makers about who is Jewish…”
Rabbi Uram differentiated between Empowerment Jews who belong to camp groups, day schools, membership affiliations and Engagement Jews who have shallow Jewish resumes when it comes to organizations. “My theory is that 15% of American Jews are Empowerment Jews like us and 85% are Engagement Jews…
“Think about what that means for organizations, moving from macro to micro from a Ford economy, selling the exact same car to the largest number of people to a Starbucks economy where everything is customized.
“How do we relate to Jewish institutions, who want us to join and be part of the community? A synagogue has a million different programs to fit 15% Empowerment Jews. One size fits all. One author described Millennials as the ‘My way, right away, why pay generation?’”
Uram concluded that Millennials, though not “joiners,” want intimate Jewish experiences, customized just for them, pointing to his UPenn Hillel Jewish Renaissance Project which addresses that.