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Embrace the young as they are our future

  • RabbiStern
Trying to understand young adults - or Millennials - is no easy task. Countless debates have focused on whether it is better to have young leaders or staff, or not. This is pertinent in government today as President Jacob Zuma has changed his Cabinet to supposedly bring in young(er) blood.
by RABBI YEHUDA STERN | Apr 06, 2017

One view holds that “older” is better because with experience comes knowledge. Another view argues that with the “younger person” comes more energy and more enthusiasm. But what about experience? “Well, if experience was so important then man would never have walked on the moon,” is often the reply.

Today the Millennial generation is the hot topic. They are those born from approximately 1984 onwards and turned into young adults at the beginning of the 21st century. They have many advantages over the older generation, which gives them an edge over their older colleagues. They are technologically proficient; they have higher levels of education; they have taken multi-tasking to a whole new level; and they have an insatiable thirst for success.

But according to Simon Sinek, a British American author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant who grew up in South Africa, they have their challenges too.

“They are self-entitled, impatient, lazy and tough to manage,” says Sinek, who had 56 million Facebook hits on his video on Millennials in the workforce. “However, the reality is that by 2025 Millennials will make up 75 per cent of the global workforce and we can’t ignore that.”

This dilemma is not only in the workforce, but within the Jewish community and the various organisational structures too. I personally work very closely with young adults - both students and young professionals.

My wife and I run the Sydenham SpiritShul, which provides shul services specifically for this age group, as well as educational and social activities, catering for, what we call, “Young Jewish Johannesburg”. And we love them all dearly, with their strengths and with their shortfalls.

One of the powerful conversations in the Torah takes place during the episode of Pesach and the redemption from Egypt. I believe it encompasses what should be our approach to young adults and to youth in general.

G-d was smiting the Egyptians, plague after plague. By the time it came to the seventh plague of locusts, Pharaoh was under huge pressure by his top officials to give Moshe what he wanted. At that point all Moshe had asked for was to let his people go.

Pharaoh finally gave in and he summoned Moshe and Aharon and says: “The adults may go to serve your G-d in the desert, but the youth must stay here in Egypt.” This was his way of ensuring that they would come back and not escape.

But Moshe disagreed. “With our youth and with our elders shall we go; with our sons and with our daughters, with our flock and with our cattle shall we go, because it is a festival for us.”

The Jewish people cannot serve G-d and celebrate our religion with the adults alone. What is a Shabbos table without the youth? What is shul without the children services? What is a community with only funerals and no barmitzvahs or weddings?

The continuity of our people is in the hands of the younger generation. “So, when we leave Egypt and we go to celebrate, it must be with the old and the young,” demanded Moshe.

As community leaders and educators, Moshe’s request must ring constantly in our ears. It is our responsibility to cater for every member and every age group of the community however, with extra emphasis on the youth. It is not an easy task at all. Honestly, it may be easier to educate and engage with the older members of the community than the younger ones.

We must be innovative and creative to find ways to attract them and to inspire them. They may be complex and they may be tough to manage, but that’s not an excuse to leave them behind.

Many organisations and community leaders have already tried all sorts of new ideas. Age-specific shuls, events with guest celebrities and speakers, cocktail parties, overseas trips and much more.

The amount of money that has been spent on these sorts of programmes is mind-boggling. Yet, we still have challenges. With social media today, one has access to everyone and everything and too often people would rather stay home than go out to a Jewish community event or party.

Truthfully, after all that has been done, I believe that something is still missing. It’s called “personalisation”. A personal call, a coffee date, one-on-one or small group discussions, a listening ear, etc.

With the revolution of technology, people struggle to develop real friendships and genuine relationships. We can be the ones to change that, slowly but surely.

Let us hear Moshe’s words. Let us embrace the youth. They are our future - we must not forget that. 

Rabbi Yehuda Stern runs the Sydenham SpiritShul for Young Adults and Young Jewish Johannesburg.

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