Food trucks and foosball. Apps and Ping-Pong. It was obvious that the organizers of the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly were saying “make yourself at home” to the Jews in their 20s and 30s attending the conference.
In fact, keeping the Millennial generation involved Jewishly was one of the key topics.
“The biggest issue is that there are young professionals involved, but it’s hard to keep young professionals everywhere engaged,” said Ben Wacks, 28, who represented Good Deeds Day. “We are bringing awareness to how we can keep young adults engaged.”
Some of the breakout sessions focused on increasing involvement of Jewish young adults, including a panel discussion called “Doing Jewish in College and Beyond: Effective Ways to Engage Young Jews.”
Zvi Drizin, director of Intown Chabad in Dallas, said that Jewish organizations need to “invest real money” in engaging young adults. “Ask your local Jewish organization how much are they actually fundraising and allocating and spending on Millennials,” he said.
The main activity hub was “The Backyard,” where participants could network or check out an exhibitor after a plenary or breakout session. It was where they could buy a snack or play a game of Ping-Pong, cornhole or shuffleboard. On Monday evening, local kosher food trucks – a familiar sight to young urban professionals – provided dinner.
“I think it shows that they have us in mind,” said Tami Wolf, 28, a D.C. resident representing Masa Israel Journey, about the games and other activities geared toward young adults. “I’ve seen people using it. I think it’s a great way to blow off some steam. And even sometimes it’s better to have those conversations and make those connections instead of sitting down and staring at each other.”
This year’s GA also made available a mobile app with an activity feed with which participants could share their comments, photos and links similar to Facebook status updates. The smartphone app also included program and speaker information and a map for easy access.
GA participants could also take advantage of a free ride to the GA via the popular ride-sharing service Uber. The partnership with Uber included the first ride to or from National Harbor free up to $25. Uber and “collaborative economies” were the focus of the opening talk Monday morning before the full session.
National Harbor is not Metro accessible and one young adult complained that it was hard to get into Washington, D.C. For example, they had to take a shuttle to an event called “Night at the Museum” at Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Next year’s GA will take place in D.C.
Joshua Kanter, community relations officer at American Jewish World Service, came down from New York City for the GA and said that he was there to network and build relationships with other Jewish organizations. “This is my third GA, and I think it’s definitely catering to a younger crowd this year,” Kanter said.