I am concerned that there may be a growing trend that the Jewish institutional world has a focus that is skewed mostly on the young. Emphasis on youth and education of the youth has been and should be a major concern of every congregation. BUT, I am concerned, very concerned, that trends and demographics seem to be showing the way that these same institutions are forgetting that the spiritual and Jewish intellectual growth of the elders of our community is equally important, and, this same multi-generational cohort contains within it such a wealth of human and life experience that to forget this, or ignore it, is to court irrelevancy.
We are already seeing the rise on communal sponsored educational days of learning (see “Limmud”) that draw hundreds of people; many “former” congregants. My work and travel brings me in to contact with many who used to be affiliated but now are not and, are not, in many cases, because their home congregation offered nothing that spoke to the life stages that they were experiencing. Many JCCs create powerful life-long learning opportunities that make education available to hundreds. Full disclosure: I teach at one of these JCCs and my weekly class has many who are members of congregations but who see the JCC as the place that their Jewish education is based.
As I traveled this year, I handed out a small, very unscientific questionnaire to people. It just asked their responses to where they saw the basis of the Jewish educational life. It also asked what issues were most important for them to learn about. The people were from all over the USA. From small to large congregations. It was no surprise that most people saw the synagogue and the local JCC as the two main locations that they looked to for continuing education. A third place finisher was the inter-net. These responders (all over 50 with 1 exception) stated that they wanted more educational opportunities and that the number one issue that drives them to seek Jewish answers and approaches was their own spiritual search for meaning.
There is a serious sense of searching out there among Boomers. As we become more aware of our own mortality, the fragility of life and the rapid passage of time, we need Jewish based opportunities to learn, discuss and reflect on our own meaning and purpose. There is much that Boomers can give to these organizations and congregations. To forget them is to, as I said, court irrelevancy.
Rabbi Richard F Address