Changing the Narrative: Embracing Generation Y



May 4, 2017

A version of this piece first appeared in the May 2017 issue of the Jewish VOICE, the publication of the Jewish Federation of Delaware.

Millennials are coming of age at a time of increased access to technology and customization, explained Mike Uram, rabbi and executive director of the University of Pennsylvania Hillel, in an interview. (Uram will receive the Edgar M. Bronfman Award at Hillel International’s Spring Event on June 5, 2017 at New York City’s Spring Studios.)

After working with Jewish college students for 13 years, his advice for engaging Generation Y is simple: Bring Judaism to where they are, to give them what they want.

For Jewish organizations to effectively engage millennials, it is important to embrace the customization trend, he said. He pointed to the example of Starbucks, which customizes each drink order to the individual. Young Jews want the same personalization, the joy of creating their own Jewish experiences.

Uram recently published Next Generation Judaism: How College Students and Hillel Can Help Reinvent Jewish Organizations, a book containing this and many other insights to help strengthen Jewish institutions today. The book optimistically views millennials as the window to the Jewish future. Although the millennial generation is often described as having a “my way, right away, why pay” mentality, Uram believes they are essential partners in shaping the future of organizations and the Jewish community.

Millennials are all looking for different things within an organization, and that is why Uram supports experimenting in innovation. Every individual now looks for different things, which are dependent on their hobbies, interests, values and traditions.

The impact that millennials are going to have on Jewish organizations is incalculable. Their leadership skills and desire to effect change will create new organizations instead of simply adding to the ranks of pre-existing ones. They want to create and find ways to be Jewish without having to join, Uram explained.

This applies to charitable giving, too.  He believes that millennials are attracted to highly customizable and personalized giving. They’ve emerged into a socially conscious generation, filled with giving to organizations they are only passionate about and can personally invest in as well as nonprofit missions that they continuously advocate for.

Uram noted that a community isn’t defined by numbers, but rather measured by relationships built. The concept of one community is a thing of the past. Organizations shouldn’t just offer one experience, but should program for diverse audiences with the end goal to eventually weave the different communities together.

He also believes organizations should be marketing with and not to. Millennials thrive off co-creation and engagement. They’d rather you teach them services, than simply giving them an experience.

Millennials are sometimes looked at in a negative light. But Uram inspires us to see millennials as an opportunity. To adapt to a new generation of Jewish community members, we will have to re-imagine the Jewish community.

Rachel Gordon is the social media specialist for Hillel at the University of Delaware.