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December 25, 2011 12:08 pm

American Jews: Let’s Get Younger!

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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How many Jewish organizations focus their education on Israel or Judaism to the young?

One of the gravest problems facing American Jewry is a simple one – young American Jews aren’t involved in authentic Judaism. Let’s put aside the Orthodox and even traditional-minded “Conservadox” types. Aside from those communities, how many American Jews under the age of 35 give a damn about anything Jewish? Whether it’s Israel, Kabbalah, or Jewish ethics, this demographic is just not interested – and that’s terrifying.

At a recent panel discussion in which I participated, legendary criminal defense attorney Ben Brafman said, “Stop worrying about planting trees – start planting Jewish students who know about Israel.” In many ways, I think he’s right. In that audience of about 250 people, I’d venture that less than 10 percent were under the age of 40, and maybe five percent or less under the age of 30. How many organizations focus their education on Israel or Judaism to the young? While Birthright has been a game changer, what happens to them after their trip Israel? and what’s with all the other  lost young Jews?

Rabbi Avi Weiss speaks of those who spend funds “counting swastikas on the side of barns,”  and if that’s really the best use of American Jewish funds. I agree with his quote that “antisemitism isn’t our greatest challenge. When there is antisemitism, there is no intermarriage. In America, we are so loved; we’re being married in droves. We’re so free; we’re assimilating. The bodies of Jews are OK; the souls aren’t.”

One topic, which is just not addressed in the American Jewish community, is the education-demographic issue. I speak a lot to American Jewish groups – and it’s very rare to see non-Orthodox Jewish kids involved in Judaism. And if we separate Sephardim and the children of immigrants, it’s even less. What does this mean for the future?

As the owner of one of the 25 largest U.S. PR Firms, 5WPR, I am proud to speak often, and write often, on these key topics. At the age of 37 I hope I am still “young” enough to hook more young American Jews on the beauty of Judaism – wherever they stand in the religious spectrum.  I’d argue that if American Jewish leadership doesn’t start to address this in a real way, the problem will become increasingly worse.

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