The Missed Jewish-American Opportunity: The Intersection Between Boomers and Millennials
The trends and attitudes of American society pour down into every corner and crevice of the American Jewish community. This is both the marvel and the challenge of being a Jewish American. Whatever Jewish actions we take, they are significantly framed by American culture.
Today, American culture is marching to the beat of a near-hysterical parade towards everything Millennial. And one of the results is that ageism, now against Boomers, has become the last acceptable — and even embraced — form of discrimination. I could fill these pages with many examples. Here is one: Through my work at the USC Annenberg School of Communication, as both a professor and also an administrator during this last year, I have spent many days in Silicon Valley companies, the most celebrated business sector of American society. As a 65-year old, I am the oldest person by at least 25 years, in every meeting I attend. Recently, I read about a discrimination suit brought against one of the company’s hiring practices by a person slightly younger than me. These practices are not just because we are in a new digital-driven era that has produced “digital natives” who have a more flexible adaptability to evolving technologies — though this is true. It is a purposeful attitude that permeates both our business and nonprofit sectors, ignoring the values of experience and wisdom gained by years of life and professional engagement.
These attitudes are traveling like a roller coaster down the hill without a control device in Jewish life right now. Boomers are lauded for their donor ability as well as their volunteerism, but not for their professional acumen. Everything is about the “next generation” and we are seen as the passé generation. V’shinantam l’vanecha — and you shall teach them diligently to your children, has been taken to a discriminatory extreme and overrides its opposite imperative: al tashleechaynee— do not cast me aside in my old age.
The vast trend in Jewish foundation funding is for Millennials, for their exotic volunteer trips, their social venture startups, their programming, trainings and education. All important. But for Boomers and others of “passé generations,” the funding is not for our growth and influence, but for our decrepitude, even if we have not yet achieved that expectation. Last month the LA Jewish Journal published a magazine on Boomers and asked me to submit a piece about the issue. When I received the publication, my article was surrounded by ads for old age homes and services for failing bodies. It was exactly what I was protesting. I immediately trashed all my copies.
Hey, Jewish foundations and organizations — there is a huge missed opportunity here that we desperately need to be taking advantage of. It’s the intersection between Boomers and Millennials. It’s the combination of Millennial talents and know-how in a tech-driven society synthesized with the wisdom and experience of Boomers. (Millennials and Boomers are just the focus point for all the potential creative intersections between younger and older generations.)
In the Jewish pursuit of Millennials, Millennials, Millennials, are we losing the force of Boomers? Shouldn’t some of that funding and strategizing be funneled into this potential force for good and creativity? We Jews bring much to American culture. Maybe if we begin in our community and succeed, we can bring this potential as well to all of American, changing the attitudes for many eras to come?
Gary Wexler, WHP Alum (LA/Westfield), has just written a book entitled Sorry Millennials, We’re not Dead Yet – The Boomer Rebellion (available here). A former advertising exec who left the field to marketing nonprofit organizations — many of them Jewish — he is now a professor of both Advertising and Creativity, as well as Nonprofit Advocacy in the Masters in Communication program at USC Annenberg. Additionally, Gary teaches workshops on American Creativity to visiting Chinese business delegations at Cal State University, Long Beach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.