The "establishment" versus the "grassroots." The old divisions that once clearly delineated — and divided — the Jewish landscape have long been evaporating. But a recently released study about the next generation of Jewish leaders provides valuable new insight into how those worlds align, collaborate and sometimes collide. Anyone interested in understanding the dynamics at play among our future leaders should pay attention.
The two year-study, titled "Generation of Change: How Leaders in Their Twenties and Thirties Are Reshaping American Jewish Life," was funded by the Avi Chai Foundation, and is the work of Jack Wertheimer and five other well-known Jewish sociologists.
As reported this week by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the survey included 3,000 Jews, ages 22 to 40, and split respondents into two primary groups: those involved in "establishment" organizations that deal with the more traditional agenda of the American Jewish community — such as Jewish federations, the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Anti-Defamation League — and those involved in "non-establishment" organizations, such as Jewish start-ups, social-service groups and organizations built around recreation with a Jewish connection.
Among the more interesting findings is that leaders in both groups felt a strong sense of identity and belonging to the Jewish people, and many shared similar backgrounds. Roughly 40 percent of individuals in both categories attended Jewish day schools. Seventy-one percent attended Jewish camps, 89 percent have two Jewish parents, and about 55 percent have spent time in Israel.
What distinguishes them to some extent is economics: Those in the professions tend to seek out the more traditional organizations as a way to enhance their networking opportunities, while those engaged in more grassroots upstarts tend to earn less, and work with nonprofits and other helping professions.
Also significant is the fact that 39 percent are involved in some mix of establishment and start-up organizations, while only 27 percent were involved exclusively in establishment groups.
The survey can serve as an important backdrop as the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia embarks on a process of establishing new funding priorities; as traditional institutions grapple with how to cultivate a new generation, and as start-ups bring new energy and creativity to the task of building community.
We are already on the right track here at home. A plethora of start-ups are energizing the 20- and 30-something set — including the Collaborative, Moishe House and the Chevra.
At the same time, several longtime pillars, including Federation, have developed their own cadre of young activists. The challenge is to recognize that we are working with a new generation and to let these young people find their place — within and beyond traditional boundaries, and in their own way.