I have always sought out communities where I can feel like a part of something that is bigger than me. I remember the first time I felt like I not only belonged, but that I was amongst a group of peers who were positively pushing me to become the person I wanted to be. It was when I was 16 years old and studying abroad in Israel for the second semester of my junior year of high school on the Union for Reform Judaism’s Heller High program (formerly NFTY: The Reform Jewish Youth Movement’s EIE program). I left Israel with a new sense of self, but heading back to Lexington, Mass., was a struggle, since I lacked a similar community at home. I found that sense of community again at Clark University and again during my experience on the Millennial Trains Project.
Each of these experiences has provided a space where I feel part of something bigger than myself and where I have pushed myself in my own personal, professional and spiritual formation. For many people, their faith community plays this role of belonging and becoming—they look to their synagogue, church or mosque for that sense of community and formation gathering. However, for many young adults like myself, we are looking to traditional faith-based institutions less and less for this purpose.
Many millennials (proud millennial here!) are finding that source of belonging and becoming in different places than previous generations. We’re finding it through programs like the Millennial Trains Project, November Project, The Dinner Party and The Sanctuaries. In the 2015 Greater Boston Jewish Community Study, we said there are new forms of engagement developing outside of the traditional Jewish communal “system”—these organizations were what we were referring to. We have also seen a dramatic increase in the number of Jewish individuals identifying as “just Jewish” over the past 10 years, with 17 percent identifying as such in 2005 and 45 percent in 2015.
This movement has been well-documented by Harvard Divinity School’s Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile in their works “How We Gather” and “Something More,” where they have outlined the current religious landscape for millennials. When I read their work, I felt they were writing about me—someone who is immensely proud of their Jewish identity but usually looks elsewhere for primary sources of belonging and becoming. As someone who works on the Young Adult Initiative at CJP, whose goal is to engage Jewish individuals between the ages of 22-45 in Jewish life, I have seen these trends accelerate over the past three years.
About six months ago, I connected with Angie and Casper to learn more about their work and discuss ways CJP might be able to implement some of their learnings as a response to the shifting trends in religious engagement. Out of these conversations, a partnership emerged, resulting in the creation of the Boston Community Leaders Cohort. Our goal in this work is to support the creative thinkers, community leaders and spiritual innovators who are leading the innovative communities where people are finding that sense of belonging and becoming. We’re incredibly excited about this program and are looking for applicants from across faiths and backgrounds—so if you know someone who is leading an innovative community, pass along the website or this blog post.
The Boston Community Leaders Cohort
The Boston Community Leaders Cohort supports innovative community leaders who are re-imagining community for rising generations. This program, designed and led in partnership between CJP and Harvard Divinity School, will consist of a group of 10-20 leaders who span across faiths in the Greater Boston area and whose communities focus on bringing individuals and groups into soulful, transformative relationships at a time of crisis-level isolation. Whether it’s a fitness-based community, a weekly Shabbat gathering or an organization focused on increasing human connection, this program could be a fit for you. It welcomes diversity in all forms, and we are committed to supporting your work to make Boston a more just and loving city.
The members of this cohort will engage in monthly peer-learning sessions, have access to spiritual mentors (or elders), have the opportunity to attend a national retreat and access to a pool of funding for future collaborations.
How are we defining “community”?
We want to be clear that a community is different from a network. A network is a series of loose connections that facilitate learning, relationships and opportunities. We understand a community to be something deeper. To us, a community is a group of people who care for each other’s wellbeing, are invested in overcoming challenges together and show up for each other in good times and bad. Communities are often place-based, but can thrive online as well.
How are we defining “community leaders”?
Community leaders are those who take responsibility for their communities. A leader may be the founder, director, organizer or someone without a formal title who ensures that the community is surviving and thriving. Leaders may be staff members or volunteers, long-engaged or more newly involved. We anticipate that most participants in this program will have been involved in leading their community for at least one year.
All in all, we’re hoping to provide support and build a network of individuals who are taking innovative approaches to building communities—across faiths and across sectors (not just within religious institutions). We’re eager and excited to support the spiritual formation of the leaders of these communities and support them in their continued growth.