Much like in communities across the state and country, Columbia is at a crucial point with its Jewish community. Its population is aging, and its Jewish institutions aren’t seeing the numbers of young people coming through the doors as they did during previous generations.
But as you’ll read in James Whitlow’s cover story this week, the Jewish community looks to Columbia’s future with excitement and concern. Some people say less people are coming to synagogue, while others say that young families are becoming more active.
It’s an issue Jewish communities everywhere are talking about — the declining affiliation rates among non-Orthodox young people. We’re seeing a trend in which institutional involvement simply isn’t the priority it was for past generations.
As we’ve shown in the pages of the JT over the years, I argue that it’s not that younger members of the community are losing their Jewish identities, it’s that they are connecting to Judaism in their own ways and through new organizations.
Organizations such as Charm City Tribe, Repair the World, Jews United for Justice, Moishe House and others are meeting young Jews where they are and engaging them Jewishly through social, volunteer and political activities.
And these aren’t necessarily outside of the institutional world: Charm City Tribe is housed under the JCC and Repair the World at The Associated. And the most quintessential Jewish institutions, synagogues, have caught on as well, with groups for young professionals sprouting up at Baltimore Hebrew, Beth Am and B’nai Israel, among others.
My own Jewish journey has involved a variety of the above organizations and experiences. I’ve celebrated Chanukah with Charm City Tribe in recent years, where I’ve enjoyed games of dreidel and an eclectic take on latkes. I’ve celebrated Shabbat with a Chabad rabbi and his family. I’ve hopped around to a few different synagogues, where I’ve heard engaging sermons and gotten to know different congregational communities. For me, a good environment with good people having interesting discussions (and, sometimes, a little bit of fun) makes it worthwhile.
In Howard County, the Jewish Federation houses programs such as jLEADS, its young adult leadership development series, and oxyGEN, a group for young adults ages 22 to 45. With Columbia’s great schools and diverstiy making it such an attractive community, these organizations should have no trouble remaining solvent.
I don’t think Columbia, Baltimore or any Jewish community that thinks outside of the box to cater to its younger residents has anything to worry about. My fellow co-religionists may not try out multiple synagogues as I have, but as long as there are organizations meeting them where they are and injecting Jewish content into their lifestyles, the community will remain vibrant. It’s up to the institutions to continue to evolve.