Engaging the Next Generation of Jews
Throughout my life, I have listened to the stories my grandmother has shared of her Jewish life in New York City growing up in the 1930s. I have listened to the tales my mother has told about growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s. I’ve reflected on how their experiences were similar to and different from my own Jewish life growing up on Long Island in the 1990s. Three generations of New York Jews each with a different Jewish experience.
On the one hand, we each grew up surrounded by other Jewish families, self-segregated to communities where we could be around those like us. On the other hand, with every new generation more assimilation occurred and the expectations of our involvement in Jewish life changed dramatically.
The recent Pew Study brought the conversation of our changing Jewish community front and center for both Jewish professionals and community members. The study begs us to ask important questions about the changes going on around us: Who are we now? What has changed? What are people interested in? How can we keep people engaged?
Over the past 10 years, the Jewish professional world has re-focused its thinking to emphasize the individual. The idea is that we will retain Jews in Jewish life if we get to know them better and make stronger, more personalized connections with them. But building one-on-one relationships is difficult and there is no way that Jewish professionals have the time, resources, or bandwidth to meet everyone in the community. With this in mind, it is increasingly important that we find innovative tools to help us do this work.
There are a growing number of programs and organizations achieving amazing results. One of them is GrapeVine, a technology platform that personalizes the Jewish world for each individual by using Big Data to learn about them, and then shares those insights with Jewish institutions, who can then engage them more meaningfully. This innovative tool was created by Wexner Graduate Fellowship alum Sacha Litman. GrapeVine will soon be a 501c3 that provides community building and identity forming opportunities for the Jewish community.
In more detail, GrapeVine simplifies becoming involved in the Jewish community and tailors experiences to each individual. Just like Amazon recommends products and books based on past purchase history and Netflix makes recommendations based on past movie rentals, GrapeVine suggests programs based on an individual’s Jewish involvement, general interests, life-stage, and even events that friends are already attending. GrapeVine provides these recommendations through weekly emails, the GrapeVine mobile app, and the GrapeVine website.
In turn, GrapeVine uses the learned insights from these user interactions to support Jewish organizations by providing them with key statistics about the diverse set of individuals they seek to serve. As individuals interact with programming – whether they’re sharing a Shabbat dinner with a friend or registering for a fundraiser – GrapeVine learns about what they like, which programs pique their interest, and what kinds of trends exist within a local community. This allows Jewish professionals to better understand their constituents and create that important, more personal connection they are trying to find with Jewish individuals.
I see my friends who grew up exactly like me give up celebrating holidays, marry non-Jews, and overwhelmingly disengage with the Jewish community – things my grandmother and my mother would have never even thought to be an option. I can debate both sides of the assimilation conundrum but at the end of the day, our Jewish community has changed, and it is up to us to figure out how to change with it so that Jews choose to stay Jews and continue to engage in Jewish life. We need to come together as a community and figure out ways we can work together to better connect with our increasingly diverse population. GrapeVine is one example of how, when community organizations come together, we are able to make a strong impact and retain involvement in Jewish life. There are many others out there and I hope we will seek them out and find creative solutions that work for our generation and the generations that come after us.
Guest Writer Deborah Ben-Moshe is the National Director of Outreach and Engagement for GrapeVine at Measuring Success. She manages the day-to-day operations of the GrapeVine communities and helps design and drive the national strategy. Deborah holds a BA from Northwestern University and an Advanced Certificate in Project Management from Stanford University. Deborah can be reached at Deborah@grape-vine.com.