Monday, February 24, 2014

Jewish Young Adults in Attendance

Not that many youngsters attend shul or any other AKSE activity other than Hebrew School, and there aren't all that many of them either.  In my day we had a full Junior Congregation linked to Hebrew School along with evening childhood activities like weekly dance lessons.  Post Bar Mitzvah, there was a very tenuous Hebrew High School program, what would be called Confirmation Class nowadays but social activities for the teenagers continued in a big way, from USY which was really more of a basketball night and weekly bowling league which met at the synagogue after school for transport.  As a consequence of this we maintained acquaintances with each other to about our second year of college, when final dispersal took place only to reconnect some forty years later as Facebook Friends.  About half of my FB Friends had a link to the JCC of Spring Valley and some maintain synagogue ties now, though most have been part of the larger attrition from Conservative institutions.

So where might today's Jewish youth be?  I suspect they are blended in with everyone else, though probably still extractable with a social parallel to the lab sep funnel.  Last evening after shabbos I attended a concert which brought me to the U of Delaware campus.  Since I got there early and wanted to keep a commitment to myself of trying out two unfamiliar beers each month, I wandered along the town's Main Street checking out ice cream places and pubs that might have a craft brew that I could down in about a half hour before the concert.  There was a place nearby but no room at the bar and the gelato line moved too slowly so I departed.  Further down the street was a sports bar with all sorts of offerings though none truly new to me that would satisfy my project.  While the first place had some sophistication, and probably expense, to attract professors or others who already had steady incomes, this second place had students occupying nearly all of its floor space, most with a beer in hand, some alcohol already soaking their white matter, and no doubt some phony ID's in their wallets.  As I wandered in, some of the kids picked up on my trimmed gray beard, bolo tie and crotcheted kippah.  Many were actually rather solicitous of me or at least curious as to why I was in their neighborhood.  As I departed back to the street, others also picked up on the kippah, approached me to demonstrate how little they learned in Hebrew School but were rather friendly and most important they were present and identifiable amid a very large population of students and able to seek me out without my approaching them first.

The following day I needed to see some patients, a project less difficult than anticipated, so I used the extra time to detour my customary route home to stop at IKEA.  Sunday afternoon attracts a lot of shoppers of a very diverse range of ages and other elements of appearance.  Many young families present, numerous ethnicities with a variety of conversational languages going on around me as people looked at sample kitchens, shelving, and any other furniture item that can be configured into a flat box for transport home.  While I did not hear any Hebrew or see any kippot, the volume of young families seemed staggering.  If the people we hoped would enhance our diversity at AKSE were not to be found at shul, they were very likely to be wandering the floors of IKEA instead.

There is a certain entropy to Jewish life, at least locally.  Kids at the U of Delaware could see my kippah and greet me in the broken Hebrew that they retain as a residual from Hebrew School but at least they recognized it and have some polite attachment to it.  The people at IKEA are enhancing their home lives in some way by shopping there.  U of D gatherings were a public expression of community, IKEA a more private array of personal aspirations taking shape in a public forum.  If that's where these people are then the honcho's of the declining Jewish institutions will have to infiltrate their turf to capture their interest.  No amount of programming will bring these people to AKSE, not even with a keg of beer and no ID checker.  The people places like AKSE or Federation might like to entice will not be at the university for very long but they will be at places like IKEA creating their homes indefinitely.  They will need to choose from innumerable options but whatever they take home then has to be assembled to become usable.  We need to think a little more like them than like us if we really desire to have them include established organizations of Jewish interest among their destinations.

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