A Conversation with the Next Generation

Ricki Meyer is a ConnectGens fellow.

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It is striking how often similar conversations arise among Jews.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that Jews talk – a lot – and can’t remember what they’ve said to whom.  Or maybe as a Jewish young professional, my generation and I are starting to realize our responsibility in defining the future of Judaism.  How do we find meaningful involvement in our community? How do we grapple with the ever-present social and political issues while maintaining our love for and commitment to sustaining the Jewish state of Israel?  These questions pose a fundamental shift from those asked by our grandparents’ and parents’ generations, a shift from how do we form a Jewish state to how do we keep it flourishing as a democratic society within the confines of the Jewish religion (this could take a blog post of its own).

Politics aside, I want to delve into this concept of identity and how it continues to reappear in my own life.  If you scroll back up to my third sentence, you’ll see that I defined myself as a Jewish young professional.  The order of these three words is intentional.  In the second NeXus seminar, we explored with Dr. Erica Brown how we each define our identity.  As the Jewish people – based on a relatively homogeneous sample of 40 young professionals in DC, so not your ideal test group – we tend to attribute our identities to two things: parents and religion.  What is it about these two significant factors – albeit one more obvious than the other – that influence our upbringing and the ways we continue to self-identify once we enter the ‘real world’?

For me, all directions point to the notion of tikkun olam.  My parents have led by example, ultimately inspiring me to find my own path of repairing the world at each stage of my life thus far.  My sister and I have chosen professional paths that on the surface level seem quite different, though we ultimately each identified a population for which we want to dedicate our lives and efforts to impact in a positive way.  See, it really does come back to tikkun olam as it passes along the generations.

As a fellow in the ConnectGens Fellowship Program powered by PresenTense, I am privileged to meet with like-minded individuals who are driven to create change.  Each fellow has been accepted to the program in order to develop a venture into a reality, utilizing assets of the community – and most of all each other – to work through the challenges involved with social entrepreneurship.  The ventures range from activities to spur thought-provoking conversations in DC to providing an innovative lens through which the world can view the story of Israel today, capturing stories of anyone who is willing to share (keep reading for a personal plug below…). Though we don’t have all the answers, we are taking the opportunity to collaborate with one another and more importantly to challenge each other to think in different ways and ask difficult questions.

Though fellows and ventures vary across age, geographic location, and target audience, they all stem from the same foundation of closing a gap that exists in the broad Jewish community, in turn repairing the world in our own way.  Would it be fair to say that the desire to create positive change is part of our identities, of who we are as social entrepreneur fellows and as Jews, and from where we come? I am confident to say yes, as some of this year’s fellows have their own children and are rightfully setting the example of creating the change they long to see in the communities around them.

So yes, Jews talk – but we also listen. We listen to the needs of our community and the actions of those who came before us, and make the conscious decision to act in a way that will help others.  It is my hope that this is the example my generation continues to follow, and that we continue to talk – as we are already leading the path for others.

As promised, a few words about my venture. I am working with two friends – both participants of the 2011 Alumni Leadership Mission – to create the infrastructure to have agencies and organizations send packages to Lone Soldiers who serve in the Israeli army.  About 2,800 Lone Soldiers leave their homes and families all over the world to serve in the Israeli army each year.  Some of them have relatives on the ground in Israel, but most do not.  Our venture also includes a community building aspect to foster relationships between local Jewish communities and the Lone Soldiers in Israel. Please contact thelonesoldierproject@gmail.com or @lonesoldierproj if you are interested in learning more about the project!