As a millennial who is active in the pro-Israel community, I often find myself facing the same question: “How do we get young people more engaged?” Leaders in the pro-Israel movement often look to me — the youngest face in the room — as the unofficial spokesperson for young Jews. How do we pass the torch? they ask.
I’m optimistic about my generation of leaders. Like previous generations, millennials maintain a strong desire to connect with the causes that matter. And contrary to popular belief, we don’t just want Starbucks and avocado toast. Young Jews want to be active in the Jewish community, but in creative new ways that resonate with our lifestyle.
As the volunteer chairman of the Israel Bonds Washington New Leadership program, my goal is to get young people involved, and I’m happy to report that the results are promising. Our events are
varied, but they follow several key tenets.
For one thing, millennials are looking for experiential programming. We’re doers. To bring young Jews together so they can network, learn and grow together, you have to give them a reason to show up.
So annually, we convene a group of young people active in Bonds’ New Leadership by hosting an event in two private boxes at the Washington Nationals’ Park. Rather than sitting in a stuffy conference room or rented workspace, these events give participants a compelling reason to come out and engage: come for the experience, stay for the networking, and do so while watching a ballgame and eating kosher falafel and shawarma.
Events have to be practical, too. Millennial parents don’t have spare time. So Bonds’ New Leadership in New York recently welcomed young parents and their children to paint and decorate seder plates for Passover. While the kids were busy, the adults had the opportunity to meet people they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Another tried-and-true strategy is experiential programming that relates to young people’s professional development. A senior real estate executive recently hosted a dinner at his home for up-and-coming Jewish commercial real estate professionals, opening up his network and allowing this cohort to bond over Israel Bonds.
For millennials, if it didn’t happen on social media, it didn’t happen. Whether tomorrow’s Jewish and pro-Israel leadership is on the West Coast, East Coast or anywhere in between, you can find them online. Events should have a strong digital presence. Leveraging social media allows our leaders to connect, creating a network effect for our programs and extending their shelf life to our peers online and on the go.
Success means bigger turnout, more engagement and increased investment from young people. These days we have to cap reservations for our events as more and more young people turn out – 230 at our annual Blue and White Party in South Florida, 90 at our AIPAC Welcome event, 200 at our Celebrate Israel Parade weekend in New York, just to name a few.
Young people are showing their support financially as well. The number of individuals younger than 45 holding Israel Bonds has increased 33 percent over the past seven years.
The next generation is ready, willing and able to take up the helm of Jewish community leadership. Pro-Israel organizing and advocacy are flourishing. And when today’s Jewish leaders express their concern to me about tomorrow’s leadership, my response is always the same: “Don’t worry, we’ve got this.”
Jason Langsner has been involved with Israel Bonds for seven years and is chair for the Israel Bonds Washington New Leadership Division.