Rabbi Richard F. Address, D. Min.
The High Holidays are over and the year has begun–in earnest. The pace of life has returned and “routine” has ben re-established. Yet, for most of us the routine is that there is no routine.
Life has a way of engaging us in new challenges. In recent years there has been a return to ritual as a means of navigating the challenges and changes that occur in what seems like increasing frequency. Baby boomers have been a leader in this change as we seek to find some sense of meaning as our new life stage evolves. I have been struck in my work in recent years, by the desire for and creativity in new rituals. Sometimes life hands us challenges that are very difficult. In those instances we often seek some way to ritualize a transition, a we hope to transition from one part of our life to another. A colleague has created a ritual that allows for us to move from a serious life challenge back to the rest of life. It is a ritual designed to be said by a person and their rabbi. It begins with the rabbi reading: Life takes unpredictable twists and turns. Some of these unanticipated events yield joy, learning, and satisfaction, while others yield hurt, embarrassment, and existential crises. We can never fully know how we will react to any given situation. and our Jewish tradition is rich enough to offer insight and wisdom throughout our lives.”
The participant then reads: “Past events dictated that my life changed. These changes, while beyond my control, have taught me that I must mourn the loss of my self in some way. At present, I must look within to redefine myself, and for the future move forward from these difficulties to embrace a full life. I know this is not an easy task, but one that needs to be addressed for my health and well being.”
Rabbi Geri Newburge
The ritual then moves on with a moment of personal reflection, prayers and blessings that speak to the theme of moving on in life. Rabbi Geri Newburge, who created this “Ritual of Release” hopes that this “will provide a comforting Jewish ceremony or service for emotional and sacred healing”.
This is one example of the desire on the part of much of contemporary Judaism to place life experiences within the boundaries of ritual expression.
September 23, 2011 by eJP
Filed under Opinion by Michelle K. Wolf
Listen in to almost any group of over-50-year-olds and it won’t be long before you hear health issues discussed. From getting recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes, a breast cancer diagnosis for a sibling or the complicated issues involved intaking care of an aging mother with dementia, health and wellness issues loom large for the baby boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1964.
And yet aside from a Misheberach for a family member who is ill, or home-cooked meals from a Chesed Committee to see a family through chemo, many synagogues, schools and other Jewish institutions provide little to middle-aged community members who are either trying to prevent major illness or cope with an on-going, chronic condition that is not an acute medical condition.
The assumption is often made that all synagogue members and parents of day school children have good health insurance, which flies in the face of the national uninsured rate of 16.3%, as reported by the US Census Bureau just this month. And even for those who have health insurance, many are under-insured with huge deductibles.
Preventive wellness programs in every Jewish venue can go a long way to showing the baby boomer generation that one of their primary concerns is closely aligned with the priorities of the Jewish community. Lay-driven committees can make suggestions for more nutritious food at events, such as always having a healthy alternative at kiddishim and meals including fresh fruit and vegetables whenever possible. Walking clubs can be formed at places where people are already meeting or in the neighborhoods where congregants live.
For Jewish community members facing cancer, both practical assistance and emotional support are needed. Buying groceries, driving carpool, even helping out with keeping the houseplants alive during chemo and radiation can all be coordinated by volunteers supervised by staff. Emotional and spiritual support can come from Rabbinic staff and specially trained paid social workers.
Family caregivers of children, siblings or parents with developmental, intellectual or mental disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic medical conditions need long- term help for the “marathon” of their daily lives. A few hours of volunteers’ respite every week gives the caregiver the chance to get a haircut or go to the gym, making a huge difference in their quality of life.
As a Jewish communal professional who has worked for both Jewish agencies and voluntary health agencies and sees much overlap in clients in both settings, I see the need to bring the two worlds together. As the parent of a teen with developmental disabilities and an aging father with emerging health issues, I say, “if not now, then when?”
Michelle K. Wolf is currently the Director of Foundation and Government Relations for the American Diabetes Association, Los Angeles market and is the former Director of Caring for Jews in Need at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. She is also the co-founder of HaMercaz: the one stop for Jewish families raising a child with special needs.
Matt Thornhill of The Boomer Project is one of my favorite marketing pundits on my generation.
In Blame The Boomers (Again) on the blog Engage:Boomers he takes on those who say the Boomers are to blame for America’s decline — e.g., the theory of NY Times columnist Tom Friedman.
Since we’ll all be trying to raise money from Boomers for the next few decades (the youngest Boomer is 47 years old), it’s useful to compare theories on what these rascals are all about.
“… more than any other generation today, Boomers are waging an economic revolution that will slowly but steadily shift societal views of economic success from what’s happening on Wall Street back to what’s happening on our streets.
Signs of this change are already showing up in the personal finances of Boomers and how they are consuming goods and services.
For example, Boomers are now hoarding their nuts rather than displaying them for all to see. How? The old-fashioned way, by prioritizing their needs over their wants and living on a budget.”
“We know it’s easy to blame Boomers for, well, everything. But maybe it’s the Boomer generation’s ultimate legacy to shape a new ethos for our society — responsible consumerism.
It seems the message of Depression-Era parents has finally taken root in the Boomer brain: save money and live within your means. Boomers account for only one in four Americans, but they are responsible for over two-thirds of consumer spending. If they consume in a more responsible manner, so too will others.”
If Thornhill is right, where does charitable giving fit into the Boomer mindset of ‘responsible consumerism’?
Less impulse giving? More demand for evidence of results and performance? More loyalty once they’ve found a charity that ‘works’?
The following comes from Rick Brava of “Rick Brava on the Baby Boomer Generation”. I think you will find it interesting. Jerry Weider Tuesday, August 2, 2011What is most important to Baby Boomers
In a survey of 311 Baby Boomers from around the country , when asked at this stage of life what is most important to you, an overwhelming percentage said family. In talking to Baby Boomers from a diverse economic spectrum there was universal agreemant that family was the aspect of life that stood out. While financial security , retirement , how and where they wanted to live in the golden years and finally a second career rounded out the key mentioned topics in that order these, while widely talked about and important, did indeed trail family.
When you ask in interviews a followup question, or ask to expand on the answer, it becomers very interesting. For example, a lot has to do with where you fall in the age category of Baby Boomers. An older Baby Boomer might speak of their aging parents and the decisions about their care. Another set of Baby Boomers, just a bit younger mention, the college education of children and their children starting their life in the work world and marriage. The complicated Baby Boomer might be working on the multi- generational issues, health issues for parents, and college tuition for children.
Recently, a Baby Boomer flew across the country to visit his parents, who are living close to his sister. The parents live in a upscale assisted living facility within miles of their daughter and as the brother takes the plain ride, and looks forward to interacting in the close knit family, he leves behind his wife, who will spend time with his son and two young grandchildren. His other son studies in Europe. All these forces meet in the center of the Baby Boomer priority spectrum.
Life for Baby Boomers has become reflective. Baby Boomers have spent time recalling their youth and thinking about the family gatherings that were so a part of their up bringing. They miss those day’s when the aunts and uncles came over , and time was spent with their cousins. They recall with fond memories the way their parents interacted with with the friends of their generation . One Baby Boomer reported that the house he grew up in alway’s seemed alive. As the parents of Baby Boomers have aged , the Baby Boomer tries to hold on to the memeories even harder , as they do everything they can to support their parents in the transition of caring with dignity. Baby Boomers on a whole have come to the conclusion that their parents deserve their respect and caring , because for the most part the parents did so much sacrificing to give them the life they have now.
Baby Boomers also seem bent on passing on family traditions to their children. They look to reconnect with extended family. The cousin in Buffalo is important , because of the shared bond of Easter holiday past. The cousins you saw grow up over the years of celebrating Christmas Eve, you remain loyal too and care about them today as you did yesterday . In fact now you want to grow to care about their children , because after all these are not stangers , this is family. Baby Boomers report conversations with their spouse , where in the same day they receive facebook messages , from their children , siblings, cousins and then report on the happenings to aunts and uncles. Of course many Baby Boomers have lost many important people in their lives. This difficult demension forsters a need to give of yourself to the people who are still in your life. Baby Boomers report a great sadness upon the loss of parents. They are heart broken when they lose a sibling . The loss of a spouse is devastating . This reinforces the belief system in Baby Boomers to love the ones who are here. So it is no wonder that the busy professional will fly across country to make that precious visit.
What Baby Boomers have most reported is that , when you finally do see in person that extended family member who , you care about but have not seen for a long while , it is not uncomfortable but rather the opposite, like riding a bicycle or not missing a beat. The good feeling upon the return from such a trip , is like the feeling of fresh sping water , after being in the dessert. Some may argue that the reply to the question of what is important is a obvious one , or that the economic times make you focus on the basics. Maybe both are true , but it can also be said that Baby Boomers have come to realize what is important , and maybe that is why it is front and center of things most important to Baby Boomers.
The evening began as the sunset performed like fine public art, sliding slowly behind a deepening blue and glowing orange Mediterranean Sea. Next door, the minaret of a long-abandoned mosque cast its shadow upon the ancient port below. Distant lights came alive in the soaring high rises of Tel Aviv.
It was June 27, my 60th birthday. Hila Solomon, a chef friend, had arranged this exotic, extraordinary event on the rooftop of a private home in Jaffa’s Old City. My wife, Dana, and I celebrated with more than 30 wonderful friends, whom we’ve met during the last two decades working with Israel’s nonprofit sector.
The initial toasts were intertwined between birthday wishes and comments about the blog I had been writing, 60Days
Til60.com, which had culminated that morning.
One friend said, with customary Israeli frankness, “This was the longest birthday I’ve ever seen coming. How did you keep up all those posts, finding different topics several times a week?”
I began writing the blog on April 29 with the overall question, “Can a man turning 60 maintain his relevance in youth-oriented America?” By my birthday, I had gathered more than 2,000 regular readers. Each blog post brought thoughtful comments from readers that demanded a depth of self-reflection I never anticipated.
On the last day, a comment arrived from Allan Pakes, the former marketing director of the Jewish Agency for Israel. His comment grabbed me by the jugular and has since provoked much ongoing thought and anxiety: “The question I have is: Was it worth it? Do you believe that by working with nonprofits you have benefited mankind and changed the world? I would really like to know your thoughts after your 18 years of experience.”
The answer, in all honesty, is mixed; I have both positive and negative reactions. At age 42, I gave up a wealth path as a successful ad agency owner, copywriter and creative director because I realized something was missing in my life. I could no longer be fulfilled writing Coca-Cola jingles, sending people out to rot their teeth.
One of the benefits of that decision is the deep friendships I have made. I can invite to my birthday 35 wonderful, close Israeli friends who are like family, with whom I share passions and dreams, professional frustrations and joys. Those bonds, and many others that I have established with cause-oriented fanatics around the world like myself, would have never happened without the courage to make this change. It is as if we all share being part of a global team working for common goals. These friendships have changed the quality of my life.
On the other hand, from the day I entered this profession, I quickly learned that in the Jewish world in particular, even though I was still a businessman, the fact that my clients were exclusively nonprofits assigned me to a very different category. I was now viewed as a plebian community/nonprofit worker by many lay people, who regarded themselves as the Kohanim-class donors working with the serving, Levite professionals. By virtue of their donor capacities, they had the final word about marketing this community, even when they were dead wrong.
Given this reality, have I made the changes in Jewish life that I had hoped? I know I have affected individual lives of the people I have worked with and, hopefully, the people they serve. I like to think that I have helped to establish an excellence in marketing and critical, creative thought.
Last year, I was in a crowded New York subway when a 30-something woman came up to me and said, “Are you Gary Wexler? Ten years ago, I attended a marketing seminar you gave to Hillel students. I learned more in those two days than I ever did in any of my college marketing classes.” I have heard similar stories from seminar attendees across the country, in Israel and in Canada.
Have I affected the organizations that have been my clients? Sometimes I hear, “We never could have raised this money without your marketing expertise.” But in many cases I have learned that Jewish organizations are so complex, so dysfunctional, so ego driven, so dominated by the fear of their lay/professional relationships, that they waste their money on all the consultants they bring in and many of the outside services they pay for, because they simply cannot or refuse to make serious internal change.
At 60, am I still relevant? Not if you ask the young digital marketing guru whom I encountered at a Jewish innovation conference, who said with no compunction, “What do you know? You’re an old guy.”
Some of our bright, young people have been so empowered by foundation monies thrown at them that they feel entitled to think and say anything, knowing they will be continually embraced and funded. On the other hand, there are young people with whom I am working closely on a knowledge exchange of concept, strategies and big ideas based on years of experience intertwined with their digital knowledge and instincts. This exchange keeps me relevant and informed in a changing world.
Relevancy in my profession is based upon constant learning and awareness of the changes in society. Marketing is always a reflection of continually evolving popular culture. I’m relevant because I take risks. I’m relevant because I speak out. I’m relevant because I don’t hide my age, and I understand the gifts it has brought me. I’m relevant because I refuse to live in fear of those who have the power.
And I’m relevant for a very personal reason. Through this profession, I have the privilege of traveling to Israel several times a year, playing an integral role in one of the most innovative, creative and risk-taking societies on the planet.
Watching the sun set from the Jaffa rooftop, I knew it would rise the next morning, blazing with possibilities. A new day is never taken for granted in Israel and among the Jewish people. With all our conflicts, I continue to be hopeful, dedicated, wiser and perhaps very foolish.
Gary Wexler is adjunct professor of nonprofit marketing in the masters program at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. He consults on marketing strategies with nonprofits and businesses in the United States, Canada and Israel. To reach him, visit garywexler.com
My Story Is Probably Somewhat Typical Of A Lot Of Baby Boomers. There Is A Saying,“Necessity, Who is the Mother of Invention” – written by Plato, The Republic. This Is What Drove Me To Find An Answer To My Own Personal Income Problem.
After Working For Over 25 Years In The “IT” Field, I Found Myself Being Let Go From A Fairly Nice Job At A Local Bank Where I Had Been Doing Website Technical Support For About Three Years. Although I Can’t Prove It Nor Fight It, I Know I Was Discriminated Against Because Of My Age, (60), At That Time.
My Only Recourse At The Time Was To Apply For Unemployment Benefits While I Tried To Look For Other Employment. This Was In April Of 2009, By Far, Not The Best Of Times For This To Happen, Amid The Economic Recession Catastrophe.
At The Same Time I Was Applying For Social Security Disability Benefits Due To A Stroke That I Had.
Meanwhile On The Employment Scene, I Was Discovering Something That Was Adding To My Existing Stress. For Every Job I Became Aware Of, There Was 20, 40, Maybe Even Hundreds Of Other People Vying For The Same Positions I Was Interested In.
I Also Became Acutely Aware Of Something Else. I Was Now At A Point In My Life That I Would Experience For The First Time The Severity Of How Hard It Would Be To Provide A Living For Myself.
You See, No One Wants To Hire Someone That Is My Age Regardless Of The Fact That I Had Many Years Of Experience In My Chosen Career Field. Age Had Become A Realistic Road Block That I Would Have To Overcome.
Now I Had A Real Mountain To Climb Regarding Income For Myself. Yes, I Now Have Unemployment Benefits Plus My Social Security Disability Benefits, But, There Are Still Several Problems That Needs To Be Solved.
The Reality Is That Unemployment Only Currently Lasts For 99 Weeks. Along With That, Social Security Disability Benefits Are Neither Stable Nor Does It Provide Enough Income To Live On, Even With The Unemployment. Not To Mention That, Like The Majority Of People Who Are In The Baby Boomer Generation, I Failed To Be Able To Save Any Money For Retirement.
So, Houston, We Have A Problem!
Here Is Where “Necessity” Kicked In. By Nature I Am A Problem Solver And Here, Lying Before Me, Was A Serious Problem That Needed To Be Solved. So I Made The Decision To Find A Solution For Myself.
During The Process Of Researching This On The Internet, I Discovered Another Problem. That Problem Is That There Are Millions Of Other People Who Are Baby Boomers That Have Like Circumstances And They Need Solutions To The Same Problems I Was Experiencing.
So My Quest Lay Before Me And I Buckled In For The Ride, I Got To Work. I Realized That, More Than Likely, No One Was Going To Hire Me At My Age. So I Decided To ‘Hire Myself’.
I Started Researching Work At Home Opportunities. As You Probably Already Know, The Vast Majority Of Those Opportunities Require Someone To Spend Money Up Front In Order To Take Advantage Of Them. This Was Not Going To Work For Me And I Realized That It Wasn’t Going To Work For Most People.
The Other Thing That I Realized, Rather Quickly, Is That There Are A Lot Of Scams That Are Being Perpetrated Against The General Public Who Are Looking For These Work At Home Opportunities.
Most Internet Marketers Are No Better Than Used Car Salesmen !
Being Like A Relentless Badger I Persevered And It Finally Paid Off. I Have Had To Accept As A Fact That I Now Had To Re-Invent Myself. To Do That Would Require Me Being Very Resourceful And Adopting A “Thinking Outside The Box” Type Of Attitude.
Any Way, I Was Able To “Think” My Way Through All Of This And Decided That My Best Bet Was To Do Something That I Enjoy And At The Same Time Already Knew How To Do.
So, I Have Taken My Years Of Experience In The ‘IT’ Field And Started A Work At Home Business Of My Own. I Am Now Providing Other Small Or Home Based Businesses With Services That Either They Do Not Know How To Do Themselves Or That They Perhaps Don’t Have The Time Or Want To Spend The Time To Do Themselves.
In Doing My Research I Also Found A Treasure Trove Of Legitimate Work At Home Opportunities. In The Process Of Trying To Find Some Kind Of Business That I Could Do To Make An Income, I Have Thoroughly Checked Out These Resources For Not Only Legitimacy But Also To Make Sure That They Were Indeed Not Scams.
Let me be up front and say that I enjoy Woody Allen films. That being said, let me urge you to drop what you may be doing and go out and see his new one, Midnight in Paris.
Way beyond the lushness of the cinematography and some very snappy writing is a much more interesting message that slowly emerges in the film. I will spare you the precis except to say that you can look at this movie as a sort of excursion into the fantasy world of longing for some golden past; the “good old days”. Some of us, especially as we age, may fall into this trap of wishing that we could go back to some previous time when things were better, simpler, “easier” or, well, they seemed that way. We often have a tendency to “romanticize” the past, especially when we think that the present is so challenging (and it is!).
Yet, the reality is that we are here, in this time, in this moment and nostalgia is just nothing more than our souls desire to create some fantasy of what we wish the past to have been. In the end of the movie our hero, Gil, chooses to risk listening to his soul and follow his own path. In the end, he uses the past to forge a new present for himself. And that is the way it is supposed to be.
Life, as we get older, certainly gets more complicated and the choices we make take on greater meaning and come with greater consequences. And it is often difficult to take that risk and to follow a dream. However, we cannot go back except in books, or films, or fantasy. We are living in the present and trying to create our future. Our challenge is to make choices for life and truth and faith, choices that allow us to flourish as full human beings. We wake every day to new challenges and are encouraged by our tradition to bless the daily miracles of life. In doing so we can celebrate the day that is before us and also reflect back to the Carly Simon song, Anticipation, which reminds us that, in many ways, “these are the good old days”.
Last week the Jewish Outreach Institute sponsored a conference called “Judaism 2030″. While much of it was focused on the engagement of the 20-30-40′s cohort, one session was devoted to Jewish Baby Boomers. The organizers of this conference finally gave the JBoomer generation a nod of understanding. At this session Dr. David Elcott and Mr. Stuart Himmelfarb presented. I attended this conference and spoke to many friends and associates about the work that JBoomers is trying to promote. Everyone I spoke with agreed that the Jewish Baby Boomer cohort MUST be engaged for the health and welfare of the Jewish community. Below is an article that Dr. David Elcott and Stuart Hmmelfarb wrote for the conference. Once again, it affirms all of our thoughts.
When we look at that chart in the 21st Century, we see a radical shift as the sides have become more even. Our generational pyramid now looks increasingly like a square with large populations in their fifties and sixties near the top, and many more on top of them living beyond their eighties.
In fact, as analysts at Standard & Poor’s have observed, “No other force is likely to shape the future of national economic health, public finances and policy making as the irreversible rate at which the world’s population is aging.”
If Boomers stay engaged in the work of society rather than pursuing traditional retirement plans, if they enter Encore careers in public service or if they offer their talent, experience and financial resources as serious volunteers, we will then be forced to find a way to model something dynamically different and powerful: four active generations working side-by-side both in the work force and in Jewish communal life. The potential benefits of this achievement in the private and non-profit sectors are huge in an age of declining governmental supports, a besieged middle class and the increased demands of an aging population. Conversely, if we fail to address these issues, the result could be generational collisions and a potential collapse at the core of our community.
Given these winds of change, where can we look for solutions and support? Many of the foundations and communal organizations that fund innovation, especially in the Jewish community, are firmly fixated on youth and believe their focus on 20- and 30-somethings alone
In a recent study of over 250 philanthropic funders regarding their programmatic goals, responses clustered around childhood education and a wide range of entitlements for young adults. The only mention of any other age group related to geriatric needs.
And we have comforted ourselves by assuming that when people get older, their young leadership experiences will ensure their continued deep commitment, and that they will invest their financial resources, experience and talent in Jewish communal life.
Yet in a recent study of highly affiliated Jewish Baby Boomers, two-thirds said that if they do not find what they want in the Jewish community, they have every intention of going elsewhere. Rather than reaping the benefits of generations of fidelity and Jewish passion, we may well find ourselves with four generations of highly entitled Jews whose allegiance to the Jewish community will only be as deep as the next meaningful experience offered to them, and whose loyalties might not extend beyond their own, more narrow interests. And instead of intergenerational collaboration, we will have fostered a competitive environment where generational cohorts demand a larger share of ever decreasing entitlements.
The Jewish population is among the oldest of any ethnic or religious group. The evidence we gathered in the national survey of the Jewish community cited above indicates that continued Boomer fidelity to the Jewish people cannot be assumed. Competitive alternative options for Jews in their fifties, sixties and seventies are emerging throughout the country, from the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps to Senior Corps and Executive Service Corps. (For instance, 10% of all AmeriCorps positions are reserved for those over 55.)
We ignore at our peril the implications of Boomers leaving the Jewish scene and the influence of that exit on the generations that follow.
The first Baby Boomers have reached sixty-five years old. The youngest are approaching 50. They are at a pivotal moment as they consider their next steps. What they do and how the Jewish community connects with them has implications across the generational landscape. In fact, the next decades of Boomer behavior may well determine what kind of Jewish community we share and whether it grows stronger or is buffeted by forces beyond our control.
Yoram Samet has written an article in his blog for JVillage. He notes that synagogues and Jewish institutions need to understand that JBoomes are using the internet just as intensely as their younger counterparts, with some differences. His article is below. I think he bolsters the need for JBoomers and our work.
I hope you will learn something from him.
Boomers in the Digital Age If yours is like most synagogues, many of the active members are in the Boomer age segment. And did you know that the gap in digital usage between teens and Boomers is shrinking? In other words, your Boomer members are using all the digital tools–just like your teen members. In fact, Facebook now ranks as the 3rd most popular website among internet users ages 65 and up.
The following technology-related Boomer facts come courtesy of Jeffrey Cole, of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
- Social networks are of great value to Boomers, their primary use being both educational and the sharing of information. A synagogue should consider being a great portal to all things Jewish and Israel-related for these members. Teens, on the other hand, use social networks as a way to hang out with other teens.
- Boomers are the biggest users of email, while teens are texting. Are you emails linked to your website? Are you writing emails that create interest for readers to link to your website?
- Boomers spend more money than any other group–and they make their purchases online. This is a great opportunity to open shopping to your members. But just having an online marketplace does not guarantee it will work for your synagogue. Find a member with a retail background and see if they would be interested in opening and managing an online store for you. With a member’s commitment and focus on merchandising and promoting, your synagogue could earn substantial revenue from hosting an online Jewish “mall.”
- Boomers are still the heaviest users of print. And as newspapers and magazines get displaced, synagogues have an opportunity to get boomers to get their Jews news and information from you on their tablets.
- While teens spend most of their time on Facebook, Boomers are reaching out to a wider and more varied network. They read something they are interested in and will look up the subject online to learn more. The more you can cater to the Boomer members’ content needs, the more they will value your site and being a member of the congregation.
How are you creating new value for your Boomer members online?
Here is an interesting article from the Cleveland Jewish News which confirms everything we have been preaching about JBoomers. Read for yourself.
****************************************************************** Jewish agencies seek new ways to connect with boomers
By EILEEN BEAL
Published: Friday, February 25, 2011 1:06 AM EST
Despite what many think, volunteers are more than just unpaid labor. “They help grow a successful organization,” says The Mandel Jewish Community Center’s Deborah Bobrow, who recruits and works with the volunteers responsible for the highly popular annual Jewish film festival.
But Jewish baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1963 – are harder to attract to Jewish community organizations than their parents and grandparents. Why? Because boomer Jews are the first generation of American-born Jews to be able to look outside the Jewish community for volunteer opportunities.
Consequently, Jewish charities and philanthropic organizations are facing stiff competition for them. “Today, there are no barriers to where people can volunteer,” says Daniel Blain, senior vice president at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. “Many organizations in the general community see the value of engaging Jewish volunteers and donors because of their leadership skills as well as their generosity.”
Stuart Sharpe, president of Regional Reps, a local media company, and board president of the Hebrew Free Loan Association, notes that to attract volunteers, “the Jewish community’s organizations are going to have to work harder, be more visible, and operate in ways that give volunteers what they want.”
What do boomers want?
Boomers are looking to get fulfillment from their volunteer work in multiple ways. According to volunteer coordinators interviewed for this article and the recently published “Baby Boomers, Public Service and Minority Communities: A case study of the Jewish Community in the United States,” published by the Research Center for Leadership in Action and the Berman Jewish Policy Archives, altruism is just one part of the equation.
“They want relationships and friendships that go beyond the volunteer job,” says Sandra Lusher-Waterhouse, volunteer manager at Jewish Family Service Association.
They want “varied, enriching, diverse, interesting and challenging experiences,” says the JCC’s Bobrow.
They want “volunteer positions that make sense to them and use their skills or build upon their interests,” says Brett Katz, director of volunteer services at Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau.
And they are not afraid to move around until they find the most satisfying opportunity, says Federation’s Blain.
“I’ve been volunteering at Bellefaire for a long time, but it was board and committee work and strategic planning,” says Jan Stern of Chagrin Falls. “That was satisfying, but I’d taught when my kids were young, and when I found out about a position at Monarch School working with kindergarten kids, I said, ‘Great, that’s what I want to do.’” She’s been volunteering every Monday at the school since 2006.
Boomers want to network while volunteering.
“When I moved back to Cleveland, I got involved volunteering with the Hebrew Free Loan Association,” says Kevin S. Adelstein, director of advertising sales at Cleveland.com. “It gave me a chance to meet people and, when I went on the board, it really helped me apply and sharpen my leadership and management skills. So, in a sense, it helped me network for my professional career, but I’d never have gotten involved – given up my valuable family time – if I hadn’t believed in what the organization does and that my volunteering was giving back to the community.”
They want flexibility.
“They may be juggling busy schedules or still working,” explains Vicki Snyder, director of volunteer services at Menorah Park Center for Senior Living.
“I wanted to volunteer at Menorah Park, but I’m a photographer, and half my work is in New York City and the rest is all over the rest of the U.S.,” says David Joseph of Pepper Pike. “I needed a schedule that allowed me to come and go when needed.” He’s now volunteering Mondays and Fridays in the kitchen. “I cook; I wash dishes. I do whatever’s needed.”
Flies in the ointment
As the American Jewish communities’ philanthropic and service organizations have grown and evolved, many have hired staff and become more professionalized. As a consequence, notes the baby boomers’ report, leadership at some Jewish agencies has become ambivalent about where volunteers fit in and about the benefits to the organization of restructuring organizational procedures and hierarchy to meet the wants and expectations of boomers.
Among issues cited in the report include the hidden costs associated with integrating and supervising volunteers; agencies’ need for consistently available volunteers, especially daytime volunteers; and the blurring of the lines between the professional and the volunteer, which can create legal and/or financial liabilities.
“We ignore the issue at our peril,” notes Regional Reps’ Sharpe.
Jewish organizations that rely on volunteers are facing even more challenges. A significant percentage of Jewish boomers are unaffiliated with a synagogue or other community institution or organization.
“That means Jewish organizations can’t count on loyalty as being the driver for involvement,” Blain says. At the very time when agencies’ need for volunteers is skyrocketing due to the poor economy, the toll it has taken on families, and the aging of the population, the situation organizations are finding themselves in is challenging.
Meeting the challenge
Local social service and charitable organizations are well aware of the unique situation they are facing.
To make volunteering more attractive and accessible, they are ensuring it’s as easy as possible for boomers – and all Jews – to find out who, where and what they are. And whether the organization is big or small, word-of-mouth is the biggest recruitment tool.
“One day a friend, Marcia Waxman, asked me about helping deliver food for Chabad House. Now I’m volunteering there at least once a month,” says Harriet Spiegel Piccione.
Most organizations have websites – “Ours was constructed by younger members,” admits Sharpe with a chuckle – and post volunteer opportunities there. They also make good use of email. “You can reach a huge number of people without spending a lot of money or time,” says Snyder.
In addition, organizations and agencies post opportunities on Federation’s Jewish Volunteer Network page and at volunteer hubs, such as Business Volunteers Unlimited, Greater Cleveland Volunteers, and Volunteer Match (see box). They advertise positions in papers the Jewish community reads. “We (volunteer-dependant organizations) are doing everything we can to reach out to the community,” says Diane Weiner, volunteer manager at Montefiore.
Since boomers are often over-committed – holding down a full-time job, caring for aging parents, and perhaps lending a hand with their grandchildren – many agencies schedule short-term projects, some of which can be completed in a day or evening. “For many, these kinds of projects are the only way they can volunteer,” says Leslye Arian, director of volunteers at National Council of Jewish Women, Cleveland Section.
“The only day I have off is Friday,” says Joanne Grossberg, admissions and marketing director at R.H. Myers Apartments. “So when I joined NCJW and found out they were scheduling done-in-a-day projects on my day off, it meant I could actually get involved.”
Short-term projects don’t just play to volunteers’ time constraints, strengths and interests; they plant seeds for future volunteering. “When you have compelling and engaging projects – even just daylong projects – you are creating compelled and engaged volunteers,” says Debra Posner, chief of marketing at The Mandel Jewish Community Center.
Since volunteers often have organizational and management skills, agencies tap their expertise to not only staff programs, but to create them. “Keeping ourselves open to new ideas from volunteers keeps us open to growth, too,” notes Arian.
Rise of the ‘super vol’
For highly trained boomers who want to use their professional expertise for tsedakah, some agencies and organizations create “super vol” opportunities – often one-of-a-kind projects – that tap their expertise. For example, says Blain, “We have volunteers managing significant portfolios related to their professional skills.”
But there is room for everybody, no matter what the skill set. “It’s hard to think of a situation where we wouldn’t be able to use a volunteer’s expertise,” says The Agnon School’s director of development Laura Leventhal.
Organizations also are working more closely to maximize not only their volunteers’ impact on the community but also their relationship with other organizations. Citing Operation Warm-Up, a clothing drive coordinated by Federation’s Jewish Volunteer Network and the National Council of Women, Arian says these kinds of collaborations are a win-win for everyone because “they better-use community resources.”
And to ensure successful placement of volunteers, most coordinators say they do extensive interviews (one coordinator called it “chatterviewing”), handbook reviews, and orientations that often mimic those done with paid staff. Organizations that have a large volunteer corps provide significant volunteer in-service training, too.
Still, notes Rabbi Simcha Dessler, educational director at The Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, finding the right fit “often requires a healthy dose of diplomacy to make things work.”
Support program offers help
One thing holding back many boomers from volunteering is the economic downturn’s impact on their current earnings and retirement savings. Many who would have jumped full time into volunteering now must work full time – or find new employment – to pay bills and repair the hit to their retirement savings.
The need to connect with the 9-to-5 world is the reason Federation and the Jewish Family Service Association established the Jewish Community Employment-Related Support Program. Since its inception, the program has served more than 750 community members – many of them boomers.
For information on the program, visit http://tinyurl.com/ 4ggzk3r, then click on “Employment-Related Support Program.”
Where to look for boomer-friendly volunteer opportunities
Looking for a place to volunteer? Check with volunteer coordinators at your synagogue or at local service agencies and organizations. Here are a few that post volunteer opportunities on their websites:
• Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s Jewish Volunteer Network, www.jewishcleveland.org/volunteer
• Business Volunteers Unlimited, www.businessvolunteers.org/volunteer-center.aspx