Q: With the High Holy Days almost here, how do we engage with young people who don’t often go to shul?
Rabbi Benji Stanley says…
Synagogues need to engage with young adults, welcomingly, personally and profoundly. Rabbis or key leaders must ensure they have time to build one on one relationships with young adults, and to help them build relationships with each other.
This is, of course, how to engage all people regardless of age. I am delighted the Movement for Reform Judaism has invested in my position – Rabbi for Young Adults – so I can reach out to people.
Young adults are, of course, simply human beings – too wonderfully diverse to be generalised and second-guessed. We must not make assumptions about their needs. Rosh Hashanah approaches and, as we celebrate the birthday of humanity, we should recall the teaching in Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5.
All humans were created from a single entity, Adam, so we know we are all of infinite value, and equal. Yet, whereas when a king uses a single mint for coins they all come out the same, when the King of Kings uses a single mould, we all come out unique.
Each human is equal, unique and of infinite value. So how do we engage young adults? Speak to people. Get to know them. Bring together worlds of possibilities.
• Rabbi Benji Stanley is a MRJ young adult development Rabbi
Deborah Blausten says…
Our experience at the Movement for Reform Judaism tells us that even if someone does not attend synagogue the rest of the year, the High Holy Days are still very much on their Jewish radar.
Going to synagogue on festivals can be daunting, especially with the large numbers attending. This, combined with the fact that many in this age group are not members of synagogues, means the barriers to involvement can be high.
For more than a decade, we have worked with synagogues to find a way to open the door to young adults who want to attend services. In partnership with synagogues, we offer free tickets to services, and attendees get a personalised welcome email where synagogues have the opportunity to let them know about any special events.
Young adults tell us that when they attend shul they feel ‘anonymous’ and ‘awkward’. We know this scheme works best when communities go the extra mile, reaching out to those attending their synagogue and asking them if they have somewhere to go for meals, or inviting them to all meet in one place so they have people to sit with. The relationships built through these encounters open doors to further engagement.
• Deborah Blausten works for Jeneration, the Reform Movement’s initiative for students and young adults