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Emerging Adults: What to Do With 20-Somethings?

Emerging Adults: What to Do With 20-Somethings?

Arecent New York Times Magazine cover story examined the plight of the indecisive and paralyzed 20-somethings who are living in a newly coined life stage called “emerging adulthood.” It is a critical developmental period and JInsider asked Jewish leaders and thinkers to explain what our community can offer to this generation. But first here is an excerpt from the article, which succinctly outlined the life stage’s importance.

Pluripotent Moment

The 20s are like the stem cell of human development, the pluripotent moment when any of several outcomes is possible. Decisions and actions during this time have lasting ramifications. The 20s are when most people accumulate almost all of their formal education; when most people meet their future spouses and the friends they will keep; when most people start on the careers that they will stay with for many years.

Robin Marantz Henig – NY Times Magazine

33 is the New 13

The Jewish world is organized as if only a narrow stream separates childhood and adulthood, but that stream has become a river. We need to build a bridge — an entirely new infrastructure — over the new river of emerging adulthood. Imagine if 33 became the new 13 and we invested heavily in Jewish young people all the way to actual adulthood. The bridge would be built around the fundamental understanding that the investment is largely uni-directional (as it is with children): we can’t expect emerging adults to make solid Jewish commitments during a developmental stage that is defined by non-commitment.

In the life stage with the greatest sense of possibility and freedom, in which Jews are far from their parents and childhood communities, a new infrastructure would offer increasingly compelling experiences and mentors over a very long period of time — think of it as a kind of dating — until a real commitment is even developmentally possible. There is good news: most Jewish emerging adults go to college, so we know exactly where to find them to start the process after they leave home. And they are pluripotent: they are as open to Jewish experiences as they are to everything else.

The bottom line is that emerging adulthood is an in-between stage — neither childhood nor adulthood — and our challenge is to design entirely new experiences and expectations, rather than tinkering with traditional childhood programs and adulthood expectations. The river has become too wide, and many won’t make it to the other side. Let’s build the bridge.

Daniel Libenson is the executive director of the University of Chicago Hillel and a 2009 Avi Chai Fellow,

Personal Discovery and Development

“Connecting young Jewish adults to one another, Israel, and their local and global Jewish communities fills much of the bandwidth of communal discussions about Jewish “identity” and “continuity.” While the reality on the ground is complex, in the end the broad message is simple: It’s about authentic, personal experiences; being with friends and experiencing (or creating) community together; and opportunities that deepen Jewish knowledge and stimulate Jewish growth.

But in its simplicity is a profound message: Identity formation is ultimately a result of personal discovery and development that, outside the family, happens in a circle of friends. We have learned that igniting small and welcoming settings for both experiential opportunities (some of which are developed nationally like NEXT Shabbat) and [do-it-yourself] learning (amplified by ever-deepening discussions with those more learned) works.”

Morlie Levin, CEO Birthright Israel NEXT,

Great Conversation

To be 20-something is to search for one’s place in the world. Between career and education, friendship and romances, young people do not so much drift as struggle with profound questions of meaning: Who am I? What can I contribute to the world? What is a good life to live? The Jewish community can offer emerging adults not a set of answers, but a forum in which to forge a sense of meaning.

The Torah is our 3,000-year-old conversation through the generations about these very issues. Our laws, holidays and customs are responses to the eternal questions of human life. They are modes of living with consciousness and commitment. Our message to young Jews should be: Your concerns are the right ones. We have been wrestling with these questions for quite some time. Come and listen to some of our responses, and then join the conversation.

Dan Smokler, Senior Jewish Educator, NYU Hillel,

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