Many in the Jewish community worry about the level of unaffiliated in our midst, especially among the younger generation. Synagogue memberships are down, as are memberships in Jewish institutions that used to be the center of the Jewish community. But does choosing not to affiliate mean this younger generation is not interested in religion? A few recent polls suggest just the opposite. While younger generations are less affiliated, they may actually be “more spiritually thirsty than older generations.”
Writing in the New York Times, columnist Charles M. Blow points out two polls – one by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, the other a Knights of Columbus/Marist poll – which show today’s younger generation (the Millennials) puts a high priority on spirituality. The Pew study found that although Millennials are less likely to affiliate, they are more likely than older generations to believe in heaven and hell, life after death, and miracles. In the Knights of Columbus poll, being “spiritual or close to God” was the most popular answer in a question about “primary long-term life goals.”
Every time new studies are released about religion in America, we learn that nearly across the board the challenges are the same. It’s not a “Jewish” phenomenon but an American phenomenon of young people saying “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.” This information makes leaders in every religion wonder, how do we turn that strong sense of spirituality into religious affiliation?
Unfortunately, there is no single answer to that question. In the Jewish community there are so many ideas on how to engage the unaffiliated – and rejuvenate Judaism in general – that a group of Jewish media outlets got together and have been putting out a new idea a day through the month of February. Some of the ideas might work, others might not. What’s most important is that we continue to come up with innovative programs that meet the needs of unaffiliated Jews and demonstrate the value of engaging with the mainstream Jewish community.