The early chapters of Pirkei Avot talk about the need for us to study Torah alongside worldly occupations; to live a life constantly engaging with Jewish values and teachings but also – essentially – participating in the world around us.
Jewish News has done a great job of highlighting some of the young Jews who do exactly that: contribute their passion, skills and knowledge to better our both community and beyond through their personal and professional work.
However, there has to be a way of celebrating young people in our community, without the inherent judgement in ranked lists. I have no doubt that the intentions of Jewish News and its judging panel are positive, but as a student rabbi in my 20s I have to ask you to question the effects of your actions.
There was a 10-fold increase in young adults (aged 16-24) with long-standing mental health conditions between 1995 and 2014. The world I grew up in was profoundly different to the world of Generation X, and it has clearly taken its toll on young adults’ mental wellbeing.
I was pleased to see that this year rankings were removed for the 18 Under 18 list, but dismayed to see it still there for both 25 Under 25 and 40 Under 40.
It is not just the rankings that I have a problem with. Granted, the people on the lists are doing innovative, exciting things, but picking arbitrary achievements and telling the community that these people are more valued than others, often just for doing their jobs, is not the best way of celebrating them.
Without clear criteria measuring impact, and ensuring fair representation of gender, race and denomination, they are always going to miss out people whose important work is mostly quietly behind the scenes, or who don’t have the same connections and relationships with communal institutions and leaders.
These lists should be about shining a light on people who otherwise are not getting the kind of profile they should, not regurgitating the same faces every time they shift from being under 25 to under 40.
Dividing into categories like arts and culture, science and technology and religious life might help end up with a more diverse and representative list. Recognition and celebration is great, but these lists should serve a practical purpose. Rachel Rose and Amy Decker, former movement workers for Noam UK and RSY-Netzer respectively, recently compiled such a resource, which can be viewed here.
We need to think about why we want to identify leaders of the community, as well as how. If it’s just to schlep naches, or to highlight interesting work, why is any sort of ranking or competition needed.
• Daisy is a student rabbi in London, having enrolled in the prestigious Leo Baeck College as one of its youngest ever entrants.