Jewish Youth Feel Morality is Essential to their Jewish Identity
By Wayne Green
By providing youth with hands-on philanthropy experiences, we can help them mobilize their Jewish values, maximize their community impact and come together as a community to fight for change
The events of the past year – from the pandemic to the movement for social justice – have brought unprecedented attention to the structural inequality and foundational injustice that plague our society. Jewish youth in particular want to create positive change in their communities, have their voices heard, and be a part of something bigger than themselves. The Pew report on Jewish Americans released this year shows that the overwhelming majority of Jews, especially Jewish youth, feel that leading a moral and ethical life is essential to their Jewish identity. The report also highlights a new awareness among Jewish youth of escalating antisemitism in the United States. By providing youth with hands-on philanthropy experiences, we can help them mobilize their Jewish values, maximize their community impact and come together as a community to fight for change.
Philanthropic engagement gives Jewish youth the opportunity to tackle the problems they see today, while building a new generation of Jewish community leaders and givers. The teenage years are an essential time for identity formation and a key moment to learn how to be responsible for our fellow human beings and to explore ways to express Jewish values. After all, Jewish values are social values, focused on trust, respect, responsibility, caring and community. Jewish youth today want to dig deeper into these values and related lessons they’ve learned to create positive change, both in their communities and globally. Philanthropy infused with strong Jewish learning and experiences enables them to see how they can make a difference, while also building connections with peers and with people from different walks of life. Leadership with empathy, learned through the experience of strategic giving, is the emotional skill needed to effect positive change today and into the future.
Anyone who cares about meaningful Jewish youth engagement has a stake in elevating these philanthropic opportunities. The vast majority of American Jews connect to their Judaism through culture, not religion – only 12% of Jewish Americans regularly attend religious services, but 74% share Jewish culture or holidays with non-Jewish friends. Jewish youth philanthropy provides an opportunity for Jewish teens to experience Judaism in action and explore their cultural identity through the giving process. Research shows that after participating in Jewish youth philanthropy programs, alumni have stronger Jewish identities, deeper connections to the Jewish community, and the skills, confidence, and inspiration to become leaders and change-makers in their own communities. These results hold true even years after program participation, as alumni elected to stay involved in the Jewish community and expressed interest in carrying their philanthropic goals into adulthood.