Baby boomers are back in the news — have they ever not been? — with new research and case studies suggesting that the organized Jewish community would be wise to invest more thought and programming into keeping this cohort involved in Jewish life, or risk losing them and their support.
The boomers — adults born between 1946 and 1964 — make up almost half the population of affiliated Jews, and according to David Elcott, who recently published a study on the topic, they are “the wealthiest, best-educated, best-trained cadre of Jews in world history.” (See story on page 1.)
But as Elcott points out in his report, “Baby Boomers, Public Service and Minority Communities” (Research Center for Leadership in Action, NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and Berman Jewish Policy Archives), a significant majority of Jewish boomers will look for “encore” careers as volunteers or part-time professionals outside of the Jewish community if that’s where the best opportunities are to be found.
The implications here are profound. At a time when retirement plans are undergoing dramatic change, with fewer people able to simply stop working completely at age 65, the large numbers of Jews who soon will be seeking meaningful, fulfilling and productive work, albeit on a part-time basis, is sure to increase. Elcott’s study indicates, though, that the organized Jewish community is unprepared for the large-scale influx.
Some Jewish organizations are resistant to accommodating part-time workers, adding to the concern that many Jews will find more satisfying opportunities outside our community. The result could be a turnoff among boomers to Jewish institutions and a lack of much-needed resources to the community.
For quite some time now the mantra of Jewish organizations has been to attract young people, particularly those in their 20s and 30s, though such efforts often have proven ephemeral. Now there may come a welcome reassessment and appreciation of the value of investing in the boomers, whose talents and commitments have long been proven. A fine balance is not easy to achieve, but the sheer numbers suggest that it is time to adjust our communal focus.
The most logical start would be to have boomers mentoring and training Gen Xers, giving the older group a much-needed and satisfying task, and helping the younger group focus their energy and enthusiasm.