Dr. Jack Wertheimer, the Joseph and Martha Mendelson Professor of American Jewish History at The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), and a team of researchers have recently completed a report entitled “Generation of Change: How Leaders in Their Twenties and Thirties Are Reshaping American Jewish Life.” The team initiated the study, under the auspices of the AVI CHAI Foundation, to learn how Jewish women and men between the ages of 22 and 40 who serve as leaders of Jewish programs, initiatives, and organizations think about Jewish concerns and their upbringing. The report is available at www.avichai.org.
“The contribution Conservative Judaism’s younger cohorts have made to the enrichment of Jewish life for their age peers is far beyond their proportions in the American Jewish populace,” says Dr. Wertheimer. “At a time when Conservative Jews constitute around one-third of Jews who identify as Jews by religion, they are contributing approximately 45 percent of the leadership cadre in the 22-to-40-year-old cohort. This is especially true among leaders of the nonestablishment sector who are in the forefront of creating start-ups. Although significant percentages of nonestablishment leaders raised Conservative now identify with other Jewish streams or as post-denominationals, 40 percent of young Jewish leaders in establishment organizations still do identify as Conservative. No other religious stream comes close to contributing those percentages. This is a success story that needs to be studied and enhanced for the good of American Jewry as a whole.”
Dr. Wertheimer and the research team identified thousands of American Jews in their twenties and thirties who play leadership roles among their peers. They are reenergizing established organizations or starting new ones of all kinds to appeal to niche subpopulations of their peers. And they are all acutely aware of the diversity of Jewish needs and interests. The report finds that these leaders are not monolithic in their outlook. While those engaged in existing, mainstream organizations tend to focus on protective activities, others work at start-ups and mainly concentrate on broader progressive social causes, such as environmentalism, social justice, and service to the needy. There are also young Jewish leaders who help peers find personal meaning in their own Judaism, ranging from cultural celebration to interest in Jewish languages and artistic endeavors. In addition, these young leaders represent a range of opinions on such topics as the severity of threats posed by anti-Semitism and intermarriage, as well as the value of advocacy for Israel.
Dr. Wertheimer speaks to students at the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies about his research project on young Jewish leaders:
View a video of this learning session:
Visit JTS at www.jtsa.edu.