Hillel CEO Discusses Jewish Millennials
Published: Friday, February 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 1, 2013 02:02
Wayne Firestone, president and CEO of Hillel, The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, spoke about the American millennial generation’s emphasis on education and social interaction Thursday.
“I would argue that Jews do university more than they do anything else,” Firestone said. “We disagree on everything … but the one thing we agree on: we send our kids to college.”
Firestone also recognized that college is a time when students begin adulthood and have the opportunity to meet different types of people.
“The place where the departure will begin on the journey through emerging adulthood will begin is the university setting,” he said. “There is so much to gain and learn and share in this kind of setting where we can be embraced.”
Firestone emphasized the importance of social media in evaluating millennials’ behavioral micro-trends.
“What we do know about this organization is that they are technological natives. For them, as hyper communicators, they often are able to leave tracks,” he said. “They leave digital footprints and fingerprints about where they’ve been, so we know an awful lot about them.”
Firestone said that members of the millennial generation are especially social because of increased digital communication. Firestone believes Judaism help channel this phenomenon.
“Jewish life, law, ethics, rules [and] folklore have a lot to say about those boundaries and have a lot to contribute to millennials on topics that it turns out they really actually need and want greater enrichment and understanding,” he said. “So, for us, this tension actually becomes a perfect storm. At a time when you can communicate 24/7 …what does it mean to actually disconnect and give yourself time for reflection?”
Additionally, Firestone said that reevaluating how institutions, such as Hillel, spread Jewish faith to millenials, can help young adults embrace Jewish traditions and values on their own terms, citing the lack of motivation for young people to wake up and come to Shabbat services at 9 a.m.
“We may actually be missing the bigger point. We’re trying to introduce with respect to what Shabbat can and should be for them. Things that they say they have rejected from their parents, or from their synagogue or from some other institution suddenly could be reintroduced to them in a completely different way that they found extremely valuable and relevant to their lives.”
In order to reach these young adults, Firestone believes new, non-traditional approaches may be affective.
“I want to try to break down some of the stereotypes of what it means to engage this generation,” he said. “This requires a new playbook. It requires a new mindset. And the good news is, this generation actually cares and is interested in the conversation and will actually help and be involved in helping build things that are meaningful for them and their friends.”
Finally, Firestone said that because the millennial generation engages through questions, religious figures can help young adults by acting as mentors and providing opportunities for growth.
“The key on information is not going to be about just ‘How do I be Jewish?’ It’s ‘Why do I be Jewish?’ And that’s where we see the most profound opportunity in identity building among emerging [adults].”
Members of the audience said they connected with Firestone’s points. .
“It was very interesting to hear from someone who really knows what’s happening with Jewish faith on campuses throughout America,” Ben Talus (SFS ’14) said. “It was refreshing to hear an outsider’s view, and I think he really validated what’s going on here. It’s nice that what’s going on here [to support Jewish heritage] is not exclusive to Georgetown.”
The event was sponsored by the Program for Jewish Civilization.