By Rachel Fayne Gruskin
As an older millennial, I realize there are characteristics shared by those my age and younger. There are traits that might not apply to all of us but can be attributed to many.
The participation trophies are plentiful, we know our way around an emoji, and many of us are 30 and living with our parents “just to save money.”
But there’s another element at play in the 18-to-34 Jewish community: the Jew–ish millennial — someone who relates more to the culture behind Judaism than the religion itself.
That might be my response if asked about my religion: I’m Jew-ish.
Both my parents are Jewish. I grew up attending Hebrew school. I was bat-mitzvahed. I took advantage of the Israel trip and opportunity to get to know my heritage a little more by going on Birthright. I go to The Temple for its young-adult services once a month.
But I have to be honest: I go to services mostly to see friends. I can’t remember the last time I opened a prayer book on a holiday. I’ve forgotten most of my Hebrew. Bacon is a staple at my place, and my JDate account has long gone cold.
How Jewish am I? And is this a trend among people my age?
I’ve attended and written about quite a few Jewish young-adult events around town for the AJT. Walking into these events can be daunting because I typically don’t know anyone, but they’re always interesting. I’ve bowled, met in bars over drinks, participated in trivia and walked through the holiday lights of the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
The events were sponsored by different organizations, but most have one thing in common: You’d be hard pressed to find anything outwardly Jewish aside from a table set up with bagels and lox or maybe a stray attendee on the phone with his or her mother.
Although the events are open to everyone, most of the people I’ve met consider themselves Reform. Many haven’t stepped into a synagogue since childhood, if at all.
So why do they come to Jewish events?
They come to meet like-minded people. They come to make friends. They come to date. They come to commiserate about overprotective families, compare sleepaway camp stories and discover what friends they have in common.
When I asked a group why they braved the cold to bowl last month, one girl’s emphatic answer was in part because of her mother’s gentle (or maybe not so gentle) prodding to meet someone Jewish. The others smiled, rolled their eyes and laughed in agreement.
They come because they understand one another — because no matter whether we go to synagogue regularly, keep kosher, or date and even marry within our faith, we’re still Jew-ish.
The ish is ever present. It’s the pride we feel upon seeing a lone menorah or box of gelt amid aisles of Christmas ornaments and wreaths. It’s the feeling we get when we understand even a small percentage of our grandmothers’ Yiddish. It’s going to a bowling alley or a bar or the Botanical Garden and meeting someone whose mother has also called twice that week to make sure she has sufficient winter clothes.
Religious or not, the ish is there. And we can all understand it.
AJT young adult columnist Rachel Fayne Gruskin graduated from the University of Central Florida in Orlando and attended New York’s The New School with some postgraduate work at Columbia University. She teaches writing at Georgia State and hosts and produces cable programming. She can be seen on Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters.