If You Build It, Will They Come?

One of my favorite movies of all time is Field of Dreams, the Kevin Costner baseball classic famous for the line “if you build it, he will come.” Granted, the quote refers to dead baseball players, but the concept can easily be applied to those less-engaged in the Jewish community, can’t it?

In a recent two-part blog, Esther Kustanowitz shared her thoughts on engaging young Jewish adults. Many of these 20s and 30s, like myself, went to Hebrew School, had families who belonged to a synagogue, and now, being in between childhood and “married with children,” believe they have no real need for a Jewish institution. What can a synagogue or JCC offer that a group or social networking club can’t? Why Jdate over Kustanowitz says:

“Affiliation is a choice. Civic engagement is a choice. Social activism is a choice. And when it comes to making space in their lives for those choices, many of which exist concurrently and definitely non-exclusively, most NextGen people don’t rely on organizations to do it for them, because they can do it better, faster, stronger and cheaper themselves.”

So perhaps the question isn’t “if we build it, will they come?” but what should we build? What can the Jewish community create that is so enticing, less-engaged Jewish 20s and 30s will want to be involved? If Ray Kinsella (Costner’s character) had built a football field, the 1919 Black Sox probably wouldn’t have walked through the corn to play baseball. We can’t just invite people to our institutions; we have to have to know what to provide for them.

Young Jewish adults are a lot like those players coming out of the Iowa cornfield, and the Jewish community can’t be Mark, the stingy brother-in-law who almost convinces Ray Kinsella to sell the farm because he can’t see the players for himself. Jewish institutions are acknowledging the need to reach out to young Jewish adults, something JOI has been saying, and providing ways to accomplish, for over a decade. Some examples are JOI’s Public Space JudaismSM programs aimed at young adults, such as Eight Days of Oil: Hanukkah Olive Oil TastingSM.

By creating unique [FREE] events that young adults can experience together, we create a place for them in the Jewish community that doesn’t require membership at a synagogue in order to be a part of said community. It means not asking for money, not asking what someone’s affiliation is, and not even asking how they are connected to the Jewish community. It means that if they want to be there, we will make a place under the tent for them. It allows them to come through the corn and just play some baseball.

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