Tobin Belzer: Young adults reinvent Jewish identity in the modern world

Young adults reinvent Jewish identity in the modern world

Source: The Daily Sundial, 11-29-10

The lecture, “People of the Face(book): How Young Adults are Reinventing Jewish identity,” led by Tobin Belzer, focused on how Jewish young adults are putting off their church and marriage for later in life. Photo Credit: Britten Fay / Staff Reporter

More and more young Jewish adults in America are putting off their church and marriage for later in life.  Dr. Tobin Belzer of the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion & Civic Culture wanted to offer some perspective on this phenomenon, particularly for contemporary Jewish Americans, in her lecture Monday in Sierra Hall.

“The Jewish community has totally mastered engaging young Jews from pre-school through college,” Belzer said.  “But some people leave college and say, ‘Oh, I’ll be Jewish or Catholic or Muslim again when I’m married.’”

Speaking to Dr. Amy Shevitz’s American Jewish Experience class at CSUN, Belzer said there is a rising proliferation of organizations that exists to bring those people who might miss the more traditional life arc back to their communities.

In the past, many religious people followed the traditional path of their parents by marrying young, joining a church, having children and thus the process starts all over again.

But the fast pace of the modern world shows young people putting this off for a variety of reasons.  They are busy working on their careers and other priorities, or interests get in the way. They can find friends and community through outlets other than a church congregation, and it may just not seem as much of an obligation as in the past….

“We found, across religions, that the same things are attracting young adults (to these organizations): making them feel like their presence was valued.  They are made to feel like active members and could take on ownership of leadership roles,” Belzer said.

It may surprise some people that young, secular adults spend their time on the internet pretty much the same as anybody else their age, and this sense of belonging they are finding elsewhere has some concerned about a growing disconnect between generations of religious people, Belzer said.

“Community is now manifested most strongly through social networks,” she said.

Another reason for the flight from the church may simply be the cost, Belzer added. Traditional synagogues have membership dues, usually on a sliding scale based on salary.  It can be very expensive and there is some controversy over this high cost to belong, but it comes with a history.

“The assumption has always been that it is a community responsibility to pay for the community,” said Amy Shevitz, religious studies professor. “Before the modern period, Jews were not part of the mainstream cultures; they were isolated and had to take care of their own.”….READ MORE

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