Last Friday, I tagged along with one of our photographers to a barbecue at Beth Am Synagogue Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg’s house, where we got some of the photos you’ll see in this week’s paper, including the cover photo.
It was a Shabbat gathering for BAYITT, Beth Am’s 20s and 30s group, which davened after the meal.
While I wrote about non- synagogue institutions evolving to reel in more young people in last week’s column, the groups that are the subject of Shana Medel’s cover story this week show that synagogues can also serve as conduits for Jewish involvement for those who may not necessarily belong to synagogues.
As Rabbi Burg grilled up veggies, burgers, hot dogs and Tofurky dogs, he spoke with attendees about the many different levels of observance while other BAYITT members sipped on craft beers.
As you’ll read in the story, declining affiliation rates among young non-Orthodox Jews don’t necessarily mean they’ve removed themselves from Jewish life, they’re just connecting to Judaism in different ways. Sometimes the traditional buildings and institutions — synagogues and federations — house these activities; sometimes they don’t.
What BAYITT and similar groups at Baltimore Hebrew, B’nai Israel, Temple Isaiah, Ner Tamid and Columbia Jewish Congregation, among others, are proving is that traditional institutions can operate in nontraditional ways to engage the generation the Jewish community so frequently worries about.
Those taking part argue that spending time with other Jews makes certain non-religious events Jewish activities, and they point out that there’s an effort to balance more secular activities with religious events.
A few factors always come up in these discussions: The younger members of the Jewish community are getting married and having kids later and don’t feel the same loyalty to institutions as previous generations. But as Gabrielle Burger, who assists with young adult programming at Ner Tamid, said, “You’re not going to come until you need something.”
So if you’re a young adult and you find your Jewish community through a synagogue- affiliated group, years later, when you’re married, you might just call that congregation’s rabbi to perform the ceremony. If you have kids and want to send them to a Hebrew school and have a place for bar and bat mitzvahs to be held, you might just turn to the place where you found a community as a young adult. And then your family becomes part of the next generation of congregants.
This is all assuming that those in their 20s and 30s still value a connection to Judaism and Jewish life, which I believe they do when it’s on their terms.
If barbecues with craft beer and tofu dogs are that golden ticket to Jewish involvement, synagogues looking to engage the next generation better tap their kegs and fire up their grills.