Dear Folkshul Community,

This morning, Mindy Blatt (Director of Community Engagement) and I attended a working breakfast with other Philadelphia-area Jewish community professionals entitled “Critical Findings on Identity and Engagement: Results of a recent survey of 998 non-Orthodox Jewish participants, ages 15-26.” The study focused on what they call “under-engaged” individuals, or those who did NOT identify themselves as being highly engaged in Jewish life and activities.

Collecting responses from Philadelphia and Los Angeles Jewish communities, this survey investigated key aspects of participants’ general and Jewish identities, as well as “roadblocks” and “onramps” to Jewish engagement and the implications for creating successful programming to engage teens and young adults.

This may sound a bit dry, but in reality (to the extent that we can extend these findings to our community’s populations) it was tremendously affirming for us here at Folkshul! Many recommendations reflected central aspects of our Folkshul approach to Jewish education and community engagement across all age groups. Here are a few of the key takeaways:

  • Tradition, family and culture are highly valued by the majority of these young adults while religion, ritual, prayer and even spirituality can lack relevance.
  • Jewish food/cooking traditions were especially appreciated.
  • In order to ensure the next generation will value Jewish aspects in their life, it is important to involve parents and the whole family in programs.
  • Informal and casual programs that emphasize interpersonal connection (such as Shabbat dinners) are among the most successful ways of engaging young adults.
  • Teens and young adults want to be entertained and learn at the same time, preferably led by someone they find inspiring and relatable. 
  • Self- improvement was a strong common thread between engaged and unengaged young adults. They prefer the learning modes of doing, utilizing and applying critical thinking skills to Jewish topics, and small group discussions
  • Topics of special interest to young adults include self-improvement and personal growth, so these should be combined with elements of Jewish values and ethics in programming.

That’s not to say we’ve got all of the answers, but it was very validating to see that the central tenets of the “Folkshul way” were supported by this research. We should feel confident that we can double-down on the values, the fun, the FOOD, and the relevance that we build into our classes, holiday programs, and special events.

We’ve got a great thing here, folks, but in order to stay a healthy organization, we need to grow our membership! This summer, please help us spread the word about Folkshul to your family members and friends who may be looking for a warm, inclusive, Jewish community of their own. Share your Folkshul stories at the swim club or at the office. And, please direct any interested folks to Rachel@Folkshul.org. (You’ll receive a $50 credit if they join!) While it may seem like the summer is “time off,” we can’t afford to waste a minute! Thank you in advance for your efforts.

All the best for a happy and healthy summer,
Jen Kolodner
Interim Director
Jewish Children’s Folkshul and Adult Community
jen@folkshul.org