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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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  • Ephraim

    Great article. The truth is, Torah, Hashem and Jews cannot be separated. Take away one and all three are gone. We are Jews and we have a Holy purpose. Our purpose is to make the world a dwelling place for Hashem. We take the mundane world and give it meaning. Realizing we can have a great time doing it is key.

  • frania kryszpel block

    To be Jewish is somehow, one way or another,to be seen as connected to Israel. It travels with the territory….it is how the supermarket check out person sees it, the dry cleaner where we take out clothes sees it, the waiter in yhr restaurants where we eat see it. If a Jewish person has never been to Israel, will never go to Israel, does not care about Israel,he is still connected by the fact that he is Jewish. Since its birth Israel is like the mother.It represents the womb all jewish people are born from. ,whether we like it or not. There is no choice because perception is reality. Instead of the dream, of the prayer,of the longing through centuries ……it is now here. It exists. Israel has had help along the way from people that know how to dream and turn it into reality. Israel survives but only defends .It needs to be proactively engaged in public relations, not only crisis management. If the world knows more about the beauty, the many cultures and colors of the people in would be more accepting and young Jews in the diaspora would benefit.

  • Joey Glicks

    Great story Mr. Ronn Torossian of 5wpr – inspiring.