Metro Views: Here's to the future

The Millenials – Americans between 18 and 29 – are a strange breed to my generation. It is scary to imagine the future entrusted to them.

March 8, 2010 13:46
3 minute read.
Metro Views: Here's to the future

marilyn henry 88. (photo credit: )


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I am a child of the ’60s. My generation’s mantra was “never trust anyone over 30.” But as I move ever closer to 60, the tables are turned. I find it hard to trust anyone under 30. These youth, as a group, have become incomprehensible to me.

They are the so-called Millennials, Americans between the ages of 18 and 29. Some 50 million strong, this is the first generation to come into adulthood during the dismal new millennium. Millennials are a strange breed to many of my Baby Boomer generation. They are dramatically more socially connected than my generation was, but often seem far less socially aware. It is frightening to imagine the future entrusted to them, and yet it is their workforce and their political choices that will determine the economic and social fabric of the society of my retirement.

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My fear, however, may be misplaced, according to a survey released last month by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. True, members of the Millennial generation have a bewildering interest in tattoos and body-piercing. But the Pew survey also found that they are more respectful of their elders than my “never trust” generation. What a relief.

The Millennials will determine, by their activity or passivity, how America interacts with the rest of the world. Those plotting strategy for future relations between Israel and Diaspora Jews take note: The Millennial generation leans left. “They are, without question, the most liberal generation since those New Dealers, and they could transform our politics for decades,” columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote in The Washington Post.

THERE IS nothing Jewish about the Pew survey; Jews are only 2 percent of the US population, and minorities are such a small sample of the survey that it is impossible to draw smart conclusions about their sentiments. However, outside of the haredi community, American Jews are much like other Americans. If you want to know where the Jewish community is headed, consider the milieu in which it lives. The Millennial generation is forging an identity that is confident, self-expressive, optimistic and tolerant, Pew said. As a group, Millennials are better educated, less likely to be affiliated with any religious denomination and more accepting of homosexuality than older generations. Racial attitudes also are more liberal; significant majorities expressed support for interracial marriage within their families.

The survey of the Millennials’ values and behavior found they are less supportive of an “assertive national security policy” and more supportive of a progressive domestic social agenda than older generations, according to Pew, which is based in Washington.

And, to my pleasant surprise, these youth seem to appreciate their parents’ generation. “The Millennial generation say older people have better moral values, a better work ethic,” Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, said in a radio interview. “The only thing they criticize the older generation for is a lack of tolerance.”

What Pew reveals about young Americans shouldn’t surprise those who have been struggling to engage young American Jews in communal life or with Israel. Diaspora Jews, of course, are not monolithic. They may love Israel or never give it a thought, and those who love it do not express their love in a singular manner. The panorama of American Jewish organizations across all political and denominational spectrums indicates that there are many ways to demonstrate devotion. (The problem is that one man’s devotion is another’s demonizing. Thus the shrei gevalt reaction to the notion that there is more than one path to righteousness or, on the PAC front, that J Street could be pro-Israel.)

I HAVE a stake in promoting and ensuring the success and well-being of the Millennials. My generation depends on them to create a prosperous society that will sustain and appreciate us in our retirement, instead of begrudging us our needs. In that sense, my generation is not so different from Jewish institutions; they will also depend on the coming generations to sustain them.

The Pew study’s detailed portrait of the Millennial generation poses quite a challenge for the traditional Jewish communal institutions that lack progressive or humanitarian credentials. No one would suggest that Jewish or Israeli entities subvert or reject their core beliefs to pander to the Millennials. Who could expect, for instance, observant communities to embrace intermarriage solely to court 20somethings who don’t object to it? But Jewish organizations must find the means to establish ties that do not compromise their fundamental beliefs, and that do not antagonize or stigmatize the youth they will need – sooner than we think.

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