What do young Jews want out of Jewish life?


A recent article posted on Synagogue 3000’s website discusses one of the most engaging (and successful) programs aimed at 20 & 30 Somethings. The article’s author, Rabbi Jeremy Morrison, conducted a whole new approach to ascertain the needs of young, unaffiliated Jews in Boston. The entire article is great (and recommended reading), but for this post I want to focus on what unaffiliated young Jews expressed as their needs and desires:


We met with unaffiliated Jews living in the neighborhoods in which we have now established circles, and we asked the participants about their connections to Judaism, their reluctance to become affiliated with a synagogue, what of Judaism they would like to try, where they would like to try it, what we could do to help, and similar questions. Participants responded that they were seeking Shabbat meals and services in an intimate setting, serious learning about Judaism, and social action projects. They wanted to start with activities in their own neighborhoods, and they sought a mix of ages and types (e.g. married and single, older and younger; interfaith couples) to join together. Additionally, participants wanted any social connections to flow from these activities, rather than focusing on the social or dating aspect.


The older “model” of congregations and synagogues does not necessarily meet the needs of younger Jewish professionals who are seeking more intimate, spiritual, and engaging communities. If we are to have any success in engaging the next generation, we need to rethink our models we are often so married to, and come back to the drawing board.

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue in Agoura Hills, CA, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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10 Responses to What do young Jews want out of Jewish life?

  1. derek4messiah.wordpress.com says:

    Joshua:This is great information.I have to say, though, that what many of these people want is something impossible to get. They want community activities in their neighborhood. They want Torah and community closer than the nearest Starbucks.Well, shoot, I want cheap, kosher sandwiches across the street from my house open 24/7 with free wifi!I suppose a Messianic Jewish group could run activities on various nights in a dozen parts of town each week (few could manage that much, but as an example). In Atlanta, there must be 200 Starbucks. How could a dozen Tikvat David communal activities scattered around town even come close to meeting what these people want.I am assuming these are not Orthodox respondents willing to move together into the same neighborhood.It seems they want most Jews to fill the pews of synagogues all over town so that there will be ample activities in their own backyard.Will 100 other people please volunteer to be the faithful attenders so I don’t have to? Can 100 other people pay dues so these programs can exist and I won’t have to do them?I hope you see the kind of problems these unrealistic wants create. Even in New York it may get harder to find a non-Orthodox synagogue in 10 years if too many people want life to go this way.Derek

  2. Monique says:

    Might i remind the humble scholar that “being pulled in five million directions” is sort of the status quo in his life right now … this report simply proposes a different kind of five million directions that could be pursued.I think the report that we’ve linked to makes pretty clear that you either have to hire a new rabbi (or couple) to take on this immense task, or drastically reorder the priorities of existing rabbinic staff.It’s also pretty clear that whoever pursues a task this immense needs to live wherever the young Jews live (that’s usually in the city center, not the suburbs) and have more flexibility than the average senior rabbi of an established suburban shul.I do like that this model was pursued in coordination with an existing congregation, and acted as a long-term funnel into that synagogue’s membership. It’s important to have an established community to send people into once they settle down and start having kids. It also helps to revitalize the existing congregation with a steady infusion of young families. Joshua and I are currently childless, and have a lot more time on our hands than a father of 8, who’s rightfully focused on maintaining the congregants he already has (that would be you, derek). We’re hoping to try something like this in the future, however.

  3. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Hi Derek-Thank you for your comment. The important thing to grasp here is not about getting what you want, but rather that young Jewish professionals desire more intimate environments, and additional opportunities to connect to Judaism apart from a service. For most congregations today, especially within our Movement, the emphasis is on the weekly service. And although that is important, the article explores other possible doorways into Jewish life – becoming an extension of the main service. Not everyone will connect to MJ through our services (however important we think they are). This is just a fact. As such, we need to consider a number of ways to reach people. And obviously one person cannot do it all. But we can start with a program or two.

  4. Yahnatan Lasko says:

    Chiming in… :-)Rabbi Morrison pointed out that the population of RWP wasn’t static–many people were passing through–just there for 3-5 years. Some of those people did ended up in a synagogue. If a young Jewish couple has a few kids and decides to move, a formative, meaningful experience like RWP could influence them to move closer to a synagogue and begin attending regularly. So, perhaps efforts like these could have the opposite effort of what Derek is pointing out. (I also think Monique’s response to Derek was good.)Furthermore: maybe this paradigm would be useful in helping the Messianic Jewish world reach out to Jews who are worshipping in churches and are unaffiliated with (Messianic) Judaism:“What unifies most RWP participants is a low level of Jewish knowledge and a beginner’s experience of Jewish ritual. Few have studied Jewish texts before engaging with the RWP; most have only a rudimentary or no understanding of Hebrew.”One of the things this article highlights to me is that synagogue attendance is more of a high hurdle than an entry point for people unfamiliar with Jewish tradition. Rather than wrestle with making the synagogue service a “seeker-sensitive” entry point (yet not destroying the flow), home meetings–focusing on (a) interaction with authentic Jewish texts and traditions, (b) encouraging questions and discussing answers, and (c) specific focus on finding connection meaning–could provide a far-less alienating “first experience” than attending a synagogue for the first time. As a bonus, it establishes the personal connection that an in-and-out first-timer to a (Messianic) synagogue might not get.Derek, I think projects like Mount Olive Press (plug!) could be really instrumental in establishing something similar in Messianic Judaism.

  5. Yahnatan Lasko says:

    BTW: I don’t want to come across as if I’m saying that our goal should be to get Jews who worship in churches out of those churches and into Messianic synagogues. However, I believe that connecting those Jews to their Jewish heritage is a worthy goal. I’ve certainly found my own connection to Judaism to be of great value in my life, and I would want someone to do the same for me!

  6. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Hey Yahnatan,Thank you so much for your comments. I appreciate your insights. However, I am also all for reaching out to Jews in Churches.

  7. Gene Shlomovich says:

    “However, I am also all for reaching out to Jews in Churches.”I feel the same way. The only way Jews can worship communally as Jews is within a Jewish context of a synagogue. The only way they can grow in their Yeshua-faith AS JEWS (rather than some generic “believers”) is when they are a part of a Jewish believing community. Churches are simply not equipped to provide this type of environment because they cater to a Gentile audience as reflected in their theology, history, traditions and communal structure.This need for Jews to be part of a Jewish community does not mean that we should shun or denigrate churches or Christians who attend them – all TRUE followers of Messiah are out brothers. Many churches provide a beatiful place for Gentile believers to grow spiritually. We should establish dialog and friendship to foster mutual understanding and love between us. We should ask friendly churches to direct Jewish seekers to Messianic Jewish synagogues, and we can point Gentile seekers to churches where they can grow to their full potential.I am also strongly against the anti-church, anti-Christianity mentality and hatred found in some pseudo-messianic fringe circles (e.g. One-Law, Two-House, etc.). It should be condemned in strongest terms – those who advocate this line of thinking should not be allowed to be part of our communities.

  8. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Hi Gene-I could not agree more with everything you just said. That is why I made the caveat to Yahnatan that although I agree with all his other comments, I actually agree with you we have an obligation to encourage Jews to remain Covenant loyal Jews.I am also very, very against a lack of respect for the Church. But as you said, the Church is just not equipped to help Jews be good Jews. It is just not their calling.We each have unique purposes and callings within the wider Body of Mashiach. As such, we should partner together in certain matters to promote the fullness of one anothers’ callings. The Church should begin partnering with us in sending Jewish believers and seekers, and we should encourage non-Jewish believers and seekers who are not called to MJ to them.For then we are living out mutual admiration and respect. Good Shobbos!

  9. howard silverman says:

    I think that this could be a paradigm for the future of our movement – small groups meeting together living and participaing in the local jewish community. In this way we are bringing yeshua to the people where they live can see the “yeshua life” lived out becasue we are living there too. in addition we are finding out that when we develop personal relationships with our people, that we are seen as people with integrity and can truly live with our people as yeshua followers. Yeshua said to make disciples not necessarily build big congregations.btw, great blog – very interesting!

  10. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Hi Howard,Thanks for visiting our blog and for the comment! We’ll have to return the favor. 😉

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