Jewish Studies will co-host a symposium, “Young Jewish Adults and Contemporary American Judaism,” to be held in The Pointe’s Ukleja Center on Sunday, April 29 from 1-5 p.m. Admission is free.
“Recent surveys have found that while young Jews are proud of their Jewish heritage, they are not interested in denominational institutions. Instead, they are interested in Jewish cultural, spiritual, or social justice issues,” explained symposium co-organizer and Jewish Studies Director Arlene Lazarowitz. “Jewish institutions, therefore, need to be flexible to attract young American Jews, for whom being Jewish is just one aspect of their identity.”
Co-sponsored by the campus chapter of Hillel and its executive director Rachel Bookstein, the conference is supported by a $1,000 grant from the Jewish Federation of Long Beach and Greater Orange County.
A series of panels, including one made up of students, several from campuses other than CSULB, will feature such speakers as Nancy Schwartzman, program director of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, Hillel’s Los Angeles-based Director for Student Leadership Dan Smokler, UCLA Professor Linda Sax, and Shawn Landres of Synagogue 3000.
“This conference will bring together speakers from the East and West coasts to discuss what is really a national issue,” said Lazarowitz. “One goal for the conference is to place CSULB in the center of this important discussion, both academically and in the wider community.”
The symposium will explore such issues as how religious organizations respond to a generation that doesn’t affiliate and how to reach out to young adults. The focus will be on creating ways of building community, enhancing learning about Judaism, and creating a more open, vibrant, and welcoming environment.
“What is true for Judaism is true for many mainline American religions,” she said. “Many young Jews are involved in community service or ecological issues, but they don’t appear interested in replacing the current generation of leaders in synagogues and volunteer organizations.”
Lazarowitz hopes the symposium will be the beginning of a dialogue between town and gown that will involve students, faculty and community lay and religious leaders.
“I want to see CSULB at the center of a dialogue that will help to create a means of addressing the generation of American Jews who are now in their 20s and 30s,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to reach out to them. One of the goals of this symposium is to ask how American Jewish organizations can change and evolve along with today’s generations. This is the start of what I hope will be a continuing program.”
Lazarowitz is proud that Jewish Studies is reaching out. “Jewish Studies is an academic discipline that is unique in that it has a role to play in the community, as well as teaching and conducting research in history, literature, Jewish religion, and Hebrew language,” she said. “It is neutral, in that it studies Jewish religion and culture, but does not advocate or advance Judaism. That makes the university the perfect place to gather.”
Lazarowitz encourages the campus and the community to attend the symposium. “In terms of the lay and religious leadership, this is the place for them to exchange ideas and to learn what is being talked about in this field among academics and those who work with this generation,” she said. “The discussion will be interactive, not a series of lectures. This conference will offer a means of bringing these issues to the university and the larger community.”