Although the results of last year’s Pew Survey on American Jewish identity led many Jewish communities to shift their focus to developing programming for Millennials, one nonprofit says there’s another age group that also requires attention: baby boomers.
B3/The Jewish Boomer Platform, a nonprofit based in New York, was created in 2011 by David M. Elcott and Stuart Himmelfarb to engage – or re-engage – Jewish baby boomers in Jewish life in an intergenerational context.
The impetus for the project stemmed from a 2009 study about Jewish baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) by Elcott, a professor of practice in public service and leadership at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service.
The study showed that 90 percent of the respondents affirmed “a significant degree of importance to finding greater meaning in their lives and feeling a sense of accomplishment,” but “the majority of Jewish baby boomers do not at this time see either volunteer or paid encore careers as a way to express their Jewish identity.”
An encore career combines personal fulfillment, social impact and continued income and comes between a person’s midlife career and retirement.
The idea that the majority of Jewish boomers would conduct their search for meaning – as well as any public service work – outside the Jewish community, caught the attention of Elcott and Himmelfarb, a former chief marketing officer at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.
“The Jewish community is woefully lagging behind other groups, whether secular or governmental, in terms of offering baby boomers resources for figuring out what to do next,” Himmelfarb said.
“We have lots of answers and responses to the problems you might encounter when you get older, but what we ironically don’t have is answers for the upbeat side of aging.” Where do boomers turn if they are happy with what they’ve done in their lives and are now looking forward, wanting to explore the world, do something meaningful and give something back? “What we see is that in the secular and governmental agencies, [there is] an awareness that boomers are a huge demographic cohort and boomers are going through these changes and looking for something meaningful.”
Some Jewish communities are starting to address this issue, Himmelfarb noted, citing Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills as an example. The California congregation organized “The Next Stage: The Boomer and Beyond Initiative” and is planning a community conversation “The Next Stage: Looking Forward and Giving Back,” in November, featuring Marc Freedman, the creator of Encore.org, a nonprofit that is building a movement to make it easier for people to pursue encore careers.
“We’re seeing the beginnings of recognition that not only [are boomers] a population that’s worth engaging but [they also] are a population that might just drift away,” Himmelfarb said. It’s not necessarily a mass exodus of boomers running from the Jewish community, he explained, but more of a subtle drift away as they look for interesting things to do with their newly available time and desire to establish their legacy.
B3/The Jewish Boomer Platform works with Jewish communities to help them find new ways to engage people in Jewish life.
Boomers are very similar in many important ways to Millennials, Himmelfarb said. Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) are going through a major life change, seeking to find meaning in life, discovering who they’re going to spend their life with, examining their Jewish identity and figuring out how to use their skills.
“The interesting thing is that those same choices are confronting boomers,” Himmelfarb said.
“If we look at boomers and we say it’s similar to Millennials, it’s just 30 years later, then maybe we can change the conversation about aging.”
Learn more at b3platform.org.