By Jessica Hanewinckel
It’s sad, but true: the overwhelming majority of post-collegiate, pre-middle-age Jews is uninvolved in Jewish life. Ask any lay leader or clergy member if they’ve found the solution to the problem, and they’ll probably be able to give you a long list of programs, activities and organizations being established to get young adult Jews back into synagogue, back into Jewish social circles, back into Jewish life.
“[Jews] are getting married later, and usually getting married and having children tends to be, for a lot of people, a natural entry point into the Jewish community,” says Rabbi Janice Elster of Jewish Federation of San Diego County. “And with that being delayed, we need to find other entry points for young people to find meaning, and we need as a community to be open and to adapt to what young people are saying.”
Now, Federation is working to compound the effects of those individual programs already in existence and to create more opportunities for engagement through its new 2030 Project. The 2030 Project “serves as an umbrella for all the groups or organizations working with 20s and 30s Jews in San Diego to help support them and get out information about their programs and events to a larger audience,” according to its web site, www.2030project.org.
With the 2030 Project, says Rabbi Elster, who is its manager, “Federation is acting as a convener for all these groups to come together and support each other, collaborate, pool resources and brains and really offer more. That’s what young adults want — they want more opportunities to connect and engage.”
By Federation’s estimation (their most current data is a decade old, taken from their last Jewish population survey), 28,000 Jewish young adults live in San Diego. Of those 28,000, between 1,000 and 1,500 are currently actively involved in the community to some degree. Even if the numbers aren’t exact, they give a general understanding of the situation: There’s a lot of potential growth.
The goal of the 2030 Project (and the source of the project’s name) is to bring Jews in their 20s and 30s together to envision and work toward the creation of a vibrant San Diego Jewish community of the year 2030. And, ultimately, the goal is to help more young Jewish adults connect to meaningful Jewish experiences and the community by expanding their opportunities, addressing gaps in service and minimizing barriers to participation.
The project began with a research phase (thanks to a planning grant from the Leichtag Family Foundation) more than a year ago to determine the needs and wants of San Diego’s target demographic. This phase included focus groups and a 2030 Project Summit, during which Rabbi Elster met with dozens of participants and professional leaders from the Jewish young adult community of San Diego to envision new ways for young Jews to connect to meaningful Jewish experiences. Through the Summit, these young adults developed their leadership and identified ideas likely to contribute to the growth and vitality of the San Diego Jewish community. Following the research phase, Rabbi Elster has worked to implement the findings and put them into action. Now, the project is fully funded by Federation.
“It’s experimental,” Rabbi Elster says. “It’s based on the research and the needs we identified, and we’re going to try to meet the needs in these areas and adapt as necessary.”
So what did the 2030 Project team learn from the Summit and focus groups?
“They want to be valued, they want to be engaged, they want to define it on their own terms, and we have to give them that opportunity in order to maintain the vibrancy of our community,” Rabbi Elster says. “We need them, and they need us. Many start-up innovative young adult organizations are funded by the older established Jewish community, so there’s a very important relationship there between the established institutions and the young adults. We’re really trying to bridge that gap and help the institutions meet the needs of young adults and help young adults define and live out a Jewish identity.”
From the research component, Federation identified five areas in which Jews in their 20s and 30s have unmet needs. From those needs, they’ve developed a series of programmatic recommendations they’re currently working to implement. Let’s look at the six 2030 Project initiatives.
Virtual Jewish Marketplace
As one of the most important programs of the 2030 Project, the Virtual Jewish Marketplace has taken the form of the project’s Web site, keeping in tune with its technologically savvy target demographic. As a central portal for all young adult groups in San Diego, it provides one location where members of all groups can go for information, communication and collaboration between groups — something that, surprisingly, had never been done before in an organized fashion.
“Obviously there are other Internet resources for things, but no other place where it all comes together with an age cohort,” Rabbi Elster says. “[Young adults] want one place to access all of it.”
The site, which solves the problem of quickly and easily connecting people to opportunities and dismantling barriers to information access, also serves as a place to connect for Jews who are new to town. They have immediate access to social activities, thanks to the site’s comprehensive programming calendar complete with filters; a growing listing of young adult groups in town, complete with a description and contact information for each, and even an upcoming feature that will make synagogues searchable by ZIP code.
Another upcoming feature currently in the works is inspired by Yelp, where users can rate, comment on or recommend groups, activities or events. And thanks to the calendar, groups make sure they’re not duplicating programming or creating scheduling conflicts.
“It’s a dream come true,” says Ilene Tatro, a local young adult who has offered her voice and opinions for the 2030 Project since its inception. “It’s something this age group needs.”
Shabbat and Holidays
One important discovery that came from the 2030 research is that young adults want more opportunities to celebrate Shabbat, specifically with friends, in large and small dinner settings, more consistently, with prayer, and with more locations and dates available.
To address this need, Rabbi Elster last month sent to her network of young adults an application form for a $500 Shabbat dinner grant, built into a platform where they could apply on their smartphone.
“We’re taking into consideration the demographic we’re tailoring this to, so that this entire experience is something that can be used,” says Federation Director of Marketing Aaron Truax. “It’s a very, very user-centric approach; everything is about the groups and the network.”
Those grants were awarded so that young adults could plan and host Shabbat dinners in their own neighborhoods this month, in a small test of a quick turnaround grant process. Afterward, they’ll invite those grantees to offer their feedback and to learn if it inspired creativity or was a worthy enough endeavor to offer similar grants around meeting other identified needs by providing financial support and incentive, explains Rabbi Elster.
Additionally, they’re working on other Shabbat opportunities both in homes and synagogues and are coordinating with young adult groups.
Third of the proposed programs, Social Justice, is based on three identified needs: community involvement, doing something significant (not just social events) and travel opportunities. To address those needs, the 2030 Project has already given local young adults several international and local social justice experiences — providing subsidies for them to attend TribeFest, the Jewish Outreach Institute Conference, and young adult mission trips to places like Ethiopia through the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. They hope to expand these opportunities to missions to Israel, other service learning trips, more conferences, and other volunteer and advocacy opportunities, which the 2030 Project would subsidize.
“One of the parts of the 2030 project from its inception has been the 2030 subsidies, in which we give scholarships to young adults to attend trips, missions and conferences related to Jewish young adults, both to have an enriching experience for themselves and to bring back knowledge and information,” Rabbi Elster says. “It has resulted in some interesting things … and really enhance our capacity in the community.”
Brooke Demner, YAD chair, was a 2030 Subsidy recipient selected to attend TribeFest in 2011.
“After people went to TribeFest, they brought back lots of ideas that have since been implemented,” Demner says. “There’s so much hype when you’re at the event, and you’re there and seeing people from all over the country and learning what they’re doing.”
Capacity Building is the 2030 Project’s earliest program and is vital in jumpstarting its ability to connect the young adult community. It was created to address the need for advancement of skills and knowledge, including professional development, the ability to foster new initiatives, more opportunities for Jewish learning, and connection and coordination between young adult groups. In addition to grant-making (which falls into this category), the creation of the 2030 Network has been most effective. Begun concurrently with the research phase, the 2030 Network is comprised of representatives from local young adult groups and from any organization serving this demographic.
“Right now there’s this boom of young adult programming,” says Tatro, also a member of the 2030 Network. “There are so many of us who are trying to work together to make programming. By getting all of us in one room every other month, we’re able to collaborate. Had we not been going to those meetings, we could not have done it.”
Currently, the Network includes representation from 18 to 20 groups, but the number is always in flux. Its members meet at least every six to eight weeks to collaborate, discuss and plan for the future of the 2030 Project. Essentially serving as representatives for the rest of young Jewish San Diego, their voices and opinions dictate how the 2030 Project will work for the young adults it aims to serve.
“It’s the Network that drives [the 2030 Project],” Truax says. “It’s not Federation, it’s the community. We know we have [the buy-in] with the community leadership we have in the 2030 Network. They’ve all been very involved with every step and very critical to this process in understanding the demographic. It’s not the stance of Federation to say we know what’s best for this community. We want to help build it, so that’s why we’re here. It’s not about Federation. It’s about the community and making it better, and helping them define what it will look like and be in the years to come, because it’s theirs.”
After working with LGBT focus groups, Rabbi Elster says, they identified the need for a southern location of events, inclusivity, access, awareness, better engagement and more entry points into Jewish life.
“It’s something we need to explore more in depth,” she says. “The plan is to promote inclusivity among our groups, and openness and awareness of the needs of that community. It’s figuring out a strategy if there’s a need for specific programming.”
To address the needs of families (mainly opportunities to connect with other young Jewish families, and family-friendly synagogue and Shabbat programming), Rabbi Elster is working with groups in the community who specifically target young families and sharing with those groups information they’ve gained in research. For example, Shalom Baby, which is represented in the 2030 Network, has worked on adding chavurot to meet the demand, a need that emerged from family focus groups. Jewish Family Service, also represented in the 2030 Network, has many programs geared toward young families, so they’re also using the information to better inform their work.
Being such a young program with a growing influence in the lives of local young adult Jews, the 2030 Project still has room for expansion and development. One idea they’ve considered (though it’s not currently in the works) is a storefront-type space specifically to serve as a programming space for the community’s young adult groups
“It’s an expensive venture to open a space,” Rabbi Elster says, “and right now we’re putting our resources into launching these areas that young adults have identified as needing.”
And that’s a huge endeavor. A good place to start is with those Jews who are already active, already involved, and have an opinion on how to improve the atmosphere and connectivity for their peers, and that’s what the 2030 Project has done. But the larger challenge will be to eventually attract those Jews who are not engaged in any way.
“It’s a harder process than you think, getting people who are generally not engaged to come out and be Jewish,” Truax says. “It’s our mission to help them be a part of our community, to invite them, to make them feel included.”
And, says Rabbi Elster, they’d like to see those Jews, as well as the ones who are already engaged, define what that community will be like decades down the road.
This project, she explains, is about “young adults defining their own path, their own future, their own sense of Judaism and Jewish community, and about giving them a say. It’s about promoting that conversation, about engagement, about defining their future for themselves. [They want] a voice in shaping the kind of programs they want to have. In a formal way, it’s providing them leadership opportunities, grants and inroads into creating the programs and facilitating that conversation.”
For more information on the 2030 Project, or to read the full 2030 Project Report, go to www.jewishinsandiego.org/2030project.aspx. Or, to see it in action and find out more about the different young adult groups in San Diego, visit www.2030project.org. It’s also on Twitter (@2030ProjectSD). You can also call Federation at (858) 571-3444.