Where Warmth and Majesty Meet

How Temple Emanu-El creates programs for Gen Z and Millennials

It is a common trope today that there is something within Gen Z and Millennials that is fundamentally opposed to joining institutions. At Temple Emanu-El, through thoughtful recalibration of our own efforts, we have begun to grow our capacity to engage this cohort. By partnering with young lay leaders and empowering them to take control of their Jewish lives, we have made the synagogue nimbler to create programmatic opportunities that match the needs and attitudes of Gen Z and Millennials locally. Our population of members under 40 has begun to increase, and we are continuing to learn from our successes.

We’ve grown our programming for Gen Z and Millennials to create a variety of experiences geared towards helping them find community and meaning in our temple. Through three primary initiatives, we have sought not only to throw open our doors to young people, but also to create attractive programs that are unavailable elsewhere in their lives. Saviv, the Young Members Circle, and Young Families have all blossomed into vibrant sectors of our temple life. Each has provided opportunities to engage young people on the edges and inside of our community.

Saviv, under the guidance of Rabbi Sara Sapadin, engages hundreds of people in their 20s and 30s yearly, whether or not they are in the market for affiliation. We provide low-barrier Jewish experiences through monthly Friday night services, cooking events, a Chanukah party, and a yearly seder. Saviv has touched the lives of countless young Jewish adults, and has brought them closer both to Judaism writ large and to Emanu-El in particular. Although many of these young people may not be ready for affiliation with a synagogue, by bringing them through our doors and welcoming them, we not only say but show that Emanu-El is a warm and welcoming community for all people.

Our Young Members Circle, chaired by Alix Greenberg and Daniel Jeydel and guided by Rabbi Andy Kahn, is helmed by a committee of 15 20-39 year olds. Some grew up here at Temple Emanu-El, some found us through Saviv, and others came to us through other on-ramps to the synagogue. From rooftop cocktail parties to guided meditations in our sanctuary, we are working with our lay leaders to figure out what opportunities we are uniquely positioned to offer. Rather than focus on Jewish matchmaking, we strive to give young Jewish people opportunities to find a community of friends that can be a support for them as they navigate all the relationships and stages of their lives. From young singles to married couples to families with young children, we are striving for a community that reflects the diversity of stages encompassed within the Millennial and Z generations.

Our Young Families’ programs, under the guidance of Rabbi Amy Ehrlich, have expanded exponentially. Baby sign language, tot services, and parenting groups are just a few examples of the rich catalog of offerings for families with young children. Our programming has grown to match a wide, diverse group of families with different needs and different schedules. By creating flexible programs at a range of times and days of the week, we seek to show these families that they are welcome on their own terms. As this cohort grows, we are also working to link the parents of these young families with the Young Members Circle. Peers of similar ages, but different life stages, don’t often have the opportunity to meet and spend time together. By amplifying the successes of both of these groups into a wider community, we will further show, rather than tell, that we are a community welcoming to all. To this end, the Young Members Circle is redoubling its efforts in outreach to the Saviv and Young Families communities to share the benefits of synagogue affiliation with those who may still be considering formally joining.

These three initiatives are only a handful of the ways in which we are working to create warm, welcoming, and unique experiences for those in search of community. Our work on this endeavor has only begun — please join us!


Rabbi Andy Kahn
Rabbi Amy Ehrlich
Rabbi Sara Sapadin

This article was originally published in the January/February issue of the Temple Bulletin.