Boston’s CJP reflects on young adult engagement
Why should CJP, Boston’s Jewish Federation, invest in young social entrepreneurs? Some suggest direct programming to engage large numbers of young adults is a better use of resources. Some point to Boston’s entrepreneurial network and ask why we need something specifically for young Jewish innovators. Through working with many of the thousands of young adults in their 20’s and 30’s in Boston, we’ve learned that they don’t only want to meet and network with each other for a date, a friend, or a job (although all three are important!). They want to help solve problems that face the Jewish community. Moreover, we believe that engaging young adults in Jewish life includes engaging them in defining and creating Jewish life.
Through CJP’s PresenTense Boston Fellowship, we are developing leaders and ideas that will influence Boston’s Jewish community—and the broad community through a Jewish lens. In the past two years, 24 fellows, roughly 100 volunteers, and the community as a whole have been engaged in a meaningful process of innovation.
This process itself is crucial. A scholar in the field of memorials once explained that a memorial—a sculpture, a plaque, a concrete reflection of a moment in time — is not the only means to the end of remembering. More important can be the act of deciding what to remember and how to remember it. In the case of developing social entrepreneurs, giving them skills and resources and helping them network are just as critical as creating a number of successful ventures. If a venture is not successful, a social entrepreneur can continue to contribute to the community with another idea or through applying leadership skills to improve existing efforts.
The nature of this process ensures that the fellows themselves are not the only beneficiaries of the Fellowship. The 100 volunteers who have been engaged as steering committee members, coaches, mentors, and teachers have found PresenTense to be a rewarding way to help the community by leveraging their skills. For many, this is the first time they have found a meaningful volunteer experience within the Federation, one that not only allows them to utilize their expertise, but also enables them to directly impact the community through helping address its needs.
The Boston Jewish community is perhaps the greatest beneficiary of the Fellowship. Working with the 24 fellows has exposed our community to 24 new ventures and all the ideas that inspired each one of those ventures. It has connected us to local and global networks of innovators sharing ideas, thinking about the next best thing, and learning how to mobilize individuals to bring social venture concepts to fruition within Jewish and non-Jewish communities.
We are noticing trends and best practices across fellowships. Jewish education is being redefined as fellows collaborate from Boston to New York to Jerusalem to London. Boston fellows are communicating with each other about such areas as sustainability and urban farming and learning from PresenTense fellows in Israel and China. These new ideas are incorporated into existing community partner organizations, and the community as a whole is benefiting from their courage and persistence.
CJP has identified engaging young adults in their 20’s and 30’s in Jewish life as a priority. CJP’s PresenTense Boston Fellowship engages those young leaders in shaping their community today and gives them the skills to continue to innovate and impact the Jewish community in the future.