You’re probably waiting for a punchline, but this is not a joke. Rather, it was a panel discussion topic of a continuing education program for rabbis in which I was involved last week. (You can read more about the program in Jewish Theological Seminary Chancellor Arnie Eisen’s most recent blog post.) The issue underlying the program was the challenge of engaging younger generations, weaned on social media, in Jewish learning that is spiritually relevant and authentic. Other professions, like broadcast and print media, have had to migrate to multiple channels to reach out to and cultivate younger audiences. And that’s also true of the museum world.
For religious communities, which are conservative by nature, the challenge of engagement is even greater. No matter what the religion or denomination, religions are in the business of preservation, transmission, adaptation and trying to remain faithful to an inherited tradition. Yet, America is the land of hyper-innovation. So, Ali Velshi, CNN anchor and chief business correspondent, and Michael Rosenzweig, President and CEO of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, gave us their respective perspectives on this challenge.
What’s the common thread that unites these three different professions?The fundamental struggle that we share is trying to be authentic and honor the legacies that we have inherited, while still opening them up for younger generations that consume culture, religion and information in radically different ways than their parents did.
Here are just a few of the insights and questions which we explored together:
- Our authority may have diminished, but our influence has increased because we now have opportunities to reach people via many different media.
- Being authentic to a core body of knowledge or information must be balanced with inviting people in to actively engage in the co-creation of relevant content and experiences.
- All of us are in the business of storytelling, and by allowing people to tell their stories, they will feel valued and find their place.
- Perhaps our roles are to be curators of knowledge, information and experiences; what we select has to be personally engaging and open to expansion with the experiences of younger people.
These are substantive issues to think about as we prepare for the holiday of Shavuot.
Rabbi Hayim Herring