I hope everyone braved the “major” snow storm that fell upon the city Wednesday night/Thursday morning. It was my family's first real experience with snow in Portland –- I must admit a little different than our usual experiences with snow in Philadelphia.
You have heard me talk a great deal about our future and engaging more young people in our community. I do believe this is an important demographic group, yet we cannot forget about an incredible current resource and asset in our community, the “Baby Boomers.”
The Baby Boomer population includes some 76 million Americans who were born between 1946-1964. These are the children of WWII veterans, people who fought for civil rights, led the feminist movement, stood at the forefront of Vietnam war protests, lived with the aftermath of the Holocaust and the early years of the State of Israel, and created new forms of spiritual expression. And 2011 is the year when the oldest people in this cohort will reach the age of 65.
In late 2010, Dr. David Elcott, professor at New York University, released a national comprehensive study, Baby Boomers, Public Service, and Minority Communities. The study explored demographic and involvement trends of this population group, noting that approximately 25% of the American Jewish population falls within this category. However, according to Dr. Elcott’s report, this population is disengaging from Jewish communal life at alarming rates while at the same time the Jewish community devotes less and less resources to them (tending to focus more on youth). This is a trend we need to reverse – especially when only 37% of the study respondents said they wanted to devote their time and energy to the Jewish community.
I do not want to be overly dramatic because I know many of these current 47-65 year olds are involved in our synagogues, Jewish organizations, and general activities within our community. Yet, in many cases this group is missing from our ranks. But why? Interest? Time constraints? Financial pressures? Meaning?
This generation varies dramatically based on current circumstances: many have children while some are currently empty-nesters…most continue to work while others may be in their retirement…many are struggling with aging issues for their parents and others are struggling with their own needs...families must look towards college expenses while also thinking of retirement. How do we encourage and entice these people to partake in such things as adult education classes, health and wellness activities, hands-on volunteerism, and Jewish life programs now and in the years ahead with the current and future realities of their lives?
Baby Boomers want to feel empowered. They are a highly educated group who are committed to high levels of success. Their decades of professional and volunteer experience can allow them to serve as valuable mentors. They are proud of their active lifestyle. Baby boomers want to be taken seriously and provided compelling ways to engage in stimulating and challenging communal activities. They don’t want to just “sit” on a board or committee -– they want to have an impact on the work of that organization. Our Jewish community has to provide opportunities that meet their skills and demands...and more!
I suggest we foster two-way communications (one-on-one meetings, focus groups, blogs, and social networking) to develop interactive relationships and a sharing of ideas. We need to learn what is of interest to this group, and at the same time have resources available ahead of time to meet their individual needs. This is key since we cannot create a “one size fits all mentality;” instead, we must offer the right mix of education, social justice, spirituality, social and meaningful activities.
We have an incredible opportunity with the Baby Boomer population in the coming years. We need them –- YOU! Now is the time to craft compelling programs and volunteer opportunities to attract the Boomers. This group will eventually redefine the 60-80 year stage of life -– many people will work longer (due to concerns about income and retirement), while a large segment will have more disposable time.
Our challenge is how we engage this population in our Jewish community utilizing them as volunteers and allowing them to provide their professional expertise and wisdom. To do this we must create new roles, provide flexible opportunities and challenges and stimulate people intellectually. Boomers want to continue to make their mark on the world -- in their own way -– and why not do it within the Jewish community?
Help us think through how to utilize the skills and talents of this important age cohort -– please share your ideas -- they matter.
PS – Please do not forget to join me on one of the three scheduled upcoming mini-missions of our local agencies. See firsthand the incredible impact your campaign dollars have on our community. Click here to make your reservation.