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Generation of Change: How Leaders in their 20s and 30s are Reshaping American Jewish Life

In September 2010, the Avi Chai Foundation put out a report “Generation of Change: How Leaders in their 20s and 30s are Reshaping American Jewish Life.” The report elicited responses from 4,466 Jewish leaders of all ages, myself included, and after thorough analysis of the data came up with a range of interesting results that I believe relate directly to our work as Jewcologists.

The survey divided respondents into a number of categories, based on 2 main factors. Establishment vs Non-establishment Jewish leadership, and Young (20s& 30s) vs Older. It asked a range of questions on Jewish identify, practice, affiliation, goals, fears and more.

When ask about their support for a range of progressive causes, ‘Jewish environmentalism’ ranked third, after ‘Social justice causes’ and ‘Gender equality & Women’s leadership’, with approximately 25% of respondents indicating support.

A more careful analysis of the data shows a number of important trends in the Jewish environmental community that are worth noticing and confirms much of what I have experienced over the past decade in my work as a Jewish environmental leader.

a) Jewish environmentalism appeal strongly in the non-establishment community (30%), but continue to have a hard time integrating into the establishment (19%).

b) In the establishment leaders, support for Jewish environmentalism is similar across age groups with a slight preference by the young (1% stronger). In non-establishment leaders, support was considerably stronger in the older generation (5% stronger).

What does this mean for our work?

First, much like in the society at large, while people care about the environment and always rank it within their top 5 issues, it is rarely a top priority even amongst social causes. One problem is that environmental responsibility continues to be defined separately from ‘social justice’ which is not true to our work and mission, and hurts our ability to reach the up to 65% of leaders who care about social justice. If we want to reach a larger proportion of the Jewish community, especially young non-establishment leaders, we must work harder to focus on issue of environmental justice and the interplay between social and environmental responsibility.

Second, while the Jewish establishment tends to define the Jewish environmental movement by its non-establishment young leaders and participants, the data shows that it actually appeals most to non-establishment older leaders and in my personal experience, particularly to women in their 50s and 60s. While programs for youth and young adults such as Teva and Adamah are clearly important, we must begin to expand our services to appeal to the older generations as well.

Third, in other questions it becomes clear that a number of issues have a much stronger appeal to establishment leader. These include ‘Helping Jews find real meaning in being Jewish’ (72%), ‘Jewish education for children & teens’ (71%), ‘Threats to Israel’ (50%), and more. Fortunately each of these is a part of our work as Jewish environmental leaders. By showing the community that our works is an ideal example of engaging Jewish education that helps Jews find real meaning in being Jewish and by focusing on the very real environmental threats that face Israel today, we can help bring our message more into the main stream establishment community.

This survey has given us the entire Jewish community a great opportunity to understand what is inspiring the current and next generation of Jewish leadership. I hope we in the environmental movement can take advantage of its results to improve our services and expand our appeal.

To read the report and see data and conclusions visit http://avichai.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Generation-of-Change-FINAL.pdf

2 Comments
2 Replies
  • Evonne Marzouk
    February 24, 2011 (10:54 pm)

    Noam, thanks for this very helpful exploration of opportunities for Jewish environmental education (and for “Jewcologists”) 🙂 I have also discovered a lot of environmental awareness outside of the young audiences that are normally pegged for our education. It makes me so frustrated that so many people do not consider the environment a high priority! Your suggestion, tying it to other issues, is important, but I also wonder if a piece of it is simple lack of (the right kind of) environmental education and whether that could help too.

  • Joe Orlow
    February 25, 2011 (1:52 pm)

    I think that part of the reason environmentalism doesn’t rate so high is that most, if not all people (including myself) are complicit in some way with not being environmental. I bought some organic apple juice today in a large glass jug. It came from California. How environmental is that? Organic: yes. Local: no. So to ask people to be concerned about the environment opens them up to charges of hypocrisy. I don’t think people want to be put in that position of saying to kids, “Do like I say, not as a do.” For example, if a teacher pushes composting, so the kid goes home and says to his parents: “I want to be environmental.” The parents beam. Then the kid says, “We have to start putting the leftovers in a box for the worms to eat.” What can the parents say? “Fine. When you’re 18 and move out you can do that.” Meanwhile, the parents call the school and the educator may end up getting a slip of paper and it won’t be green either.


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