Brooke Pariser is observant. Not in the religious sense, but in the literal sense: She’s perceptive about the community around her. She’s noticing lately that her generation is missing from some events and opportunities for Jews in the greater Seattle area. Younger Jews don’t respond to the same opportunities that engaged their parents and grandparents. Jewish institutions want to keep up, but how?
Pariser, a 33-year-old commercial real estate-investor relations and assistant property manager, aims to find out. She cites the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project’s recent survey on American Jewish identity. According to the results, each new generation is less likely to identify as religious, and more likely as ancestrally, ethnically or culturally Jewish.
The report confirmed Pariser’s observation. Growing up, she watched adults introduce themselves by synagogue affiliation. Now, while some members of her generation do still join synagogues, it doesn’t strike her as a core identity.
Pariser grew up attending children’s programming at the Stroum Jewish Community Center. At events, she tagged along with her mother, a full-time volunteer active in multiple organizations, who modeled philanthropy and tikkun olam (repairing the world).
A high school program in Israel left Pariser committed to Jewish volunteerism and extremely connected to her Jewish identity. “It just became more important to me than ever to live a Jewish life,” she said, “to give back to the Jewish community and live tikkun olam the best I can.”
As an adult, she kept her commitment, volunteering with the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and joining Hillel at the University of Washington’s board. Now a parent, Pariser is conscious of the values she instills in her young daughter. She tries to observe Shabbat weekly, admiring the little hands making circles over the candles.
Last year, Pariser and her mother Iantha Sidell co-chaired the Federation’s annual Connections event for women. Working late into the night, together they wrote a speech and delivered it to a room of 400 women. “It was an incredible experience being able to work next to her as an adult,” she said.
But at such events, Pariser looks around the room and sees few people her age.
“The problem became clear to me,” she said, “going to these events and feeling young and alone.”
Institutions having a hard time reaching younger Jews may be using old-fashioned tools, while more tech-savvy institutions are using social media, clear-cutting their phone trees, and embracing change.
Pariser admires the programs she sees engaging younger Jews, such as Jconnect and other groups for young professionals, which are thriving. But people are starting families later or not starting them at all. What happens after aging out of these groups?
To bridge that gap, Pariser is piloting a new project called Young Jewish Federation (YJF), with co-chair Lindsay O’Neil. They plan to spend a year researching and raising interest in the project, gathering opinions about what Jews in this age group want — tricky when “two Jews, three opinions” rings true across generations. The challenge: Competing as a nonprofit with new media and enticing people to try something new or give something old a second chance.
But Pariser is up to the challenge.