Insights & Strategies for Engaging Jewish Millennials


Published by UJA-Federation of New York.

UJA-Federation’s Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal (COJIR) retained the Insight Strategy Group to research Jewish millennials living in New York and get a better understanding of their lifestyle, needs, goals, and the role that being Jewish plays in their lives. The research focused on young adults, ages 22 to 36, who self-identified as Jewish, lived in New York City, had completed college, and did not yet have children. Since UJA-Federation is particularly interested in identifying opportunities to reach people who are less engaged in Jewish life, young adults who were already highly engaged, defined as attending synagogue once a week or more, were excluded from the study.

The researchers found that the overwhelming majority of the quantitative survey respondents believe that being Jewish is an important part of their identity and has strongly shaped who they are. From the in-depth interviews, a common theme was that millennials see many current efforts at Jewish engagement as requiring them to “step back” from the areas that are the major focus of their lives. Activities such as Shabbat dinners and religious services, even those geared toward young adults, are removed from the goals currently at the forefront for the majority of the millenials surveyed.

If Jewish organizations and professionals can find more ways to “step in” to those areas of interest, and meet millenials on their own terms, they will have a better chance of creating engaging programs and activities. Programs that focus on millenials’ life goals in a Jewish context, and in a way that strengthens Jewish identity or builds Jewish relationships, will play an important role in leading millenials on the path to even greater engagement.

One approach is to offer young adults “functional resources” that relate to and help them advance their personal goals, but are infused with Jewish sensibilities. Program organizers can “lead with functionality” by providing young adults with opportunities they would want regardless of whether they were offered by a Jewish organization. For example, a bike ride or a spin class to raise money for a cause taps into goals around health and wellness and is a social activity that can be done with friends and family. Another example might be offering volunteer or service mentorships, curated job listings, and other efforts to help millennials pursue their career goals while building Jewish relationships.

Whatever type of program organizations decide to plan, it’s important that they stay authentic and transparent when communicating with young adults. This includes using a casual tone, incorporating humor and self-awareness, and addressing young adults individually, in a personalized way. Our hope is that these will allow organizations to take steps toward creating events that will resonate strongly with young adults by “stepping in” to the most important aspects of their lives.

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