COLORADO SPRINGS — “Living in Colorado Springs as a Jewish adult in one’s 20s or 30s can be challenging, socially and culturally,” according to Walter Shedroff, 30, an Air Force officer.
Young adults can turn to the Jewish Young Professionals (JYP) network here to connect with other Jewish adults for social, educational and religious activities and events.
The JYP network is inclusive and open to any Jewish young adults in this approximate age range, regardless of affiliation with a synagogue or religious background.
The JYP network connects with more than 50 individuals in the greater Colorado Springs area.
The JYP network was revitalized several years ago with the help of Susan Eisenman, membership chair of Temple Shalom:
“There were so many young Jewish people in town and I wanted them to have the chance to meet one another, so we planned a happy hour gathering, which became the catalyst for the JYP network.”
Sharing Shabbat dinners and religious holidays in homes provides a structure for adults to create friendships and find camaraderie.
Often, members of the JYP network attend Shabbat services together or volunteer at large events such as mitzvah day.
This month, the JYP network will make Valentine’s Day cards for children at a local hospital, and during the spring, they are volunteering with the Care & Share food drive for the community food bank
SINCE JYP members have a wide range of interests, some hike, bike or jog together. Occasionally, the group meets for happy hour after work to socialize and connect. Recently, they met with Rabbi Mel Glazer of Temple Shalom to discuss issues of interest to the Jewish community, and have a forum to voice their ideas and thoughts.
Other events have included game night at a private residence, participating with other members of the Jewish community in Pride Day in downtown Colorado Springs, and sponsoring the oneg Shabbat after services at Temple Shalom.
According to Rabbi Glazer, “If part of our Jewish mission is to create a next generation of Jews who care about being Jewish, and who are willing to stand up and assume leadership positions in Jewish life, then organizations like JYP are essential to our survival.
“We need to find ways to connect with them, involve them, and honor their contributions to Jewish life.”
As part of his commitment to this generation of Jews, Rabbi and Ellen Glazer hosted the JYP network for a “Tex-Mex Havdalah.”
Some of the Jewish young professionals feel that their generation desires a strong Jewish identity, but in a different way from the older generations. They seek variety and meaningful connections with Jewish life and Jewish traditions, but want flexibility and options for different ways to engage in Judaism.
ACCORDING to Airman Walter Shedroff, “many of us have a strong cultural Jewish identity, even more than our religious identity as Jews.”
This challenge was described last fall in the Pew Research Center survey, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans.”
The survey showed that Jewish Americans are losing their Jewish identity — religious observance, denominational affiliation, and the desire to marry other Jews — at a high rate.
The Pew study indicated that American Jews “overwhelmingly say they are proud to be Jewish and have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people.”
But the survey also suggests that Jewish identity is changing in America, where one in five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion.
The millennial generation (those born after 1980) represents the largest age group who identify themselves as “having no religion.”
This research leads to an even greater need to connect and engage with young Jews in ways that are meaningful and enduring. Friendships and camaraderie with other Jewish young adults is a primary way to engage in Jewish life, especially for those who have converted to Judaism.
Amanda Lazar, an early childhood educator who is expecting her first baby with husband, Kenny Lazar, said:
“I am glad to be a part of the JYP because it has allowed me to socialize and learn from other Jewish individuals in a predominantly Christian society. I also value the close friendships I have made thanks to the Jewish Young Professionals Network.”
According to Rebecca Neff:
“The JYP is a great way for people to connect into the Jewish community if they aren’t connected in any other way, especially since it’s a diverse group, including intermarried couples, singles as well as divorced individuals with young children, etc. We try to hold events which appeal to everyone in some way, whether it’s a Chanukah party or sharing Shabbat dinner together.
“Building community is important to me, and that’s one of the reasons that I serve on committees and on the Temple Shalom board, to build bridges and help create a stronger sense of community with other Jews in town.”
Temple Shalom serves as a “home base” for JYP.
The temple staff plans to provide support and anticipates greater opportunities to engage younger volunteers for involvement in the Jewish community.
SEVERAL individuals have taken leadership roles in planning and organizing JYP events, including Jessica Barash, Kat Brandenberger, Steven Gold, Amanda Lazar, Rebecca Neff, Michelle Sikorski, and Walter Shedroff.
Others, including Michelle Sikorski, Jeremy Loew and Rebecca Neff, have contributed their skills and knowledge as Temple Shalom board members.
Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News