They sat in Rebecca Missel’s Morristown apartment, packing toiletries and signing Hanukka cards — enough for 15 boxes to be sent to American troops serving overseas. There were about a dozen people in their 20s and 30s, drawn by the opportunity to gather with other folks their age and do something good in the world.
There were no grants, no sponsorships, no connection to larger umbrella organizations. And that’s just how these GenXers say they like it.
The Dec. 8 gathering was the first for Jersey Tribe, a social and service network created by and for young Jewish adults.
“It’s a place where young Jews in New Jersey can feel they belong, they have a place, and can feel good about being Jewish,” said Missel, who founded the group. “There’s not so much that exists for this age cohort.”
Other efforts have been made to reach this group — seen as among the most elusive in Jewish life — with mixed results.
As Missel pointed out, single young Jews often find synagogue life geared too much toward young families, and federations geared toward people who can meet financial thresholds. It’s as if they are saying, “I want to consume, but there’s no product for me,” she said.
Missel is no stranger to the organized Jewish community — a former campaign associate in the women’s department of United Jewish Communities of Metro West New Jersey, she is now grants manager at Jewish Family Service of MetroWest. She holds master’s degrees in Jewish communal service and public policy.
“If you want to do something for young Jews these days, it’s done outside institutions,” she said. “I think that’s where it’s at now. We don’t need big organizations; this generation doesn’t really like them.”
Missel is single and will turn 30 on Jan. 8. She came to New Jersey three-and-a-half years ago not because her parents are here — they are in Phoenix — but rather for a job.
And there are plenty of others like her: young, suburban, and looking for Jewish connections on their own terms.
“There’s this whole demographic that’s untapped,” said Ian Loew of Montclair, who met Missel through another business networking organization and jumped at the opportunity to be part of Jersey Tribe.
Loew owns his own web design firm. Being single, Jewish, 32, and living in the suburbs — “It’s like being in no-man’s-land,” he said. “I want to do good; I just don’t know how to get started.”
Although he is a member of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield — free membership came with the web design work he does for them — he, like many single young Jews, doesn’t find synagogue life the right avenue for him.
“But we still want to identify as Jews,” he added.
And with Jews. Loew wants to take part in social service projects, but he also wants a social life. “I wanted to meet other Jews in the area, but there’s really nothing out there besides JDate,” he said. “I thought this would be another avenue to meet Jewish women.”
Missel also designed Jersey Tribe with people from less affiliated backgrounds in mind, people who are intimidated by established communal institutions, and would be less likely to walk into a synagogue or a federation meeting.
Jersey Tribe gatherings are planned monthly. They generally revolve around service projects in central and northern New Jersey, especially Morris, Essex, Hudson, Union, Bergen, Somerset, and Middlesex counties. Occasionally, there may be a second meeting in a given month organized around a social event. Upcoming events might include a masquerade cocktail party for Purim, or a bar night in Hoboken in partnership with the Hoboken Moishe House, a Jewish communal living arrangement for Jews ages 21-30.
This week, the Jewish Tribe had 71 fans on Facebook.
“GenXers and GenYers are very motivated to do volunteer projects, and it’s a great way to meet people,” Missel said. “It just seems like a niche that needs to be filled. For me and my generation, meaning comes from action.”