Attracting Young People to Jewish Life: Lessons Learned from Kehilat Hadar
Tuesday, Mar 15, 2005

Jewish Education News, Tuesday, March 15, 2005

by Elie Kaunfer

The organized Jewish community is struggling to attract young people (in their 20s and 30s) to institutional Judaism. Four years ago, I helped found Kehilat Hadar, a grassroots community on Manhattan's Upper West Side committed to spirited prayer, study and social action. Hadar has had great success in attracting this -missing- age group to services and educational programs. Our e-mail list is 2400 strong, more than 500 people join us for Yom Kippur and Purim services, and our regular Shabbat attendance is over 200.

More important than the numbers, however, the spirit at Hadar is our greatest success: There is a palpable feeling of joy and excitement, as well as reverence, in the services. People come not because they have to, or because their parents told them to, but because they want to.

What has accounted for this success? Below I have isolated a number of factors. While I certainly don't pretend to speak for all young Jews, I developed the following conclusions based on my experiences with the Hadar community. As other communities in New York City; Washington, DC; and Boston have already sprung up based on the Hadar model, I strongly believe these lessons are applicable to many different communities.

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About Hadar

Hadar is an educational institution that seeks to empower a generation of Jews to create and sustain vibrant, practicing, egalitarian communities of Torah learning, prayer, and service.