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Wine, Not Whine, Your Way to Millennial Engagement

Ross Berkowitz, Tribe 12’s CEO

Ross Berkowitz, Tribe 12’s CEO

Nothing good grows in a “whine-yard.” Yet many leaders whine and complain about today’s largest living generation — the millennials. Their belly-aching sounds much like author Simon Sinek’s rant about the 80 million souls born from 1982 to 2004, who he brands entitled, self-interested, narcissistic, unfocused and lazy. Jewish community leaders often add, “Millennials don’t want anything,” and yet when an interesting opportunity comes along, “they want it for free.” Such views about millennials grow disaffection, not engagement. To step into more fertile ground for engagement with this cohort, follow the insights of Ross Berkowitz, CEO of Tribe 12.

Ross has successfully grown Tribe 12, over the last decade-and-a-half, into the central portal of Jewish engagement for folks in their 20’s and 30’s in the Philadelphia area. Each year in the city of brotherly love—home to the sixth largest Jewish population in the USA—more than 2,500 millennials connect face to face through Tribe 12’s wide array of activities.

Happy Hour Thursday, Tribe 12

Happy Hour Thursday, Tribe 12

As you’d expect, they offer happy hours and holiday celebrations like Shabbat dinners. Tribe 12 also is effective with programs that reach past the edges of the expected, including matchmaking and women’s circles discussing #MeToo.

When I inquire about what drives Tribe 12’s success, the first thing Ross shares, ironically, is a quotation by Simon Sinek in “How great leaders inspire action.” Ross repeats Sinek’s instruction to “Ask, why, before you ask how and what.”

“I always ask why first. Why does this relate the lives of the people we are trying to engage? Our why is to meet the needs of people in their 20’s and 30’s.”

Ross offers a shorthand for the why of millennials. With the caution that this large and diverse population can’t be homogenized, he describes millennials’ Five P’s.

  1. Peers. Millennials are seeking people and community. They are technologically hyper-connected. But Facebook friends don’t meet their very human need for genuine face-to-face friendship and support.
  2. Partners. Millennials care about who they will partner with or marry. Many are searching. The number of Americans over the age of 25, according to a recent Pew study, who have never been married is currently the highest in history.
  3. Place. Where will they live now, and which one of the other P’s will be the deciding factor on where they will settle long term?
  4. Profession. Millennials are actively pursuing satisfying professional careers and that means more than a paycheck. According to the 2016 Millennial Survey by Deloitte, this generation is looking for jobs that enable good work/life balance, opportunities to progress/be leaders and flexibility, such as working remotely.
  5. Purpose. Twenty- and thirty-somethings are looking for sustenance for their souls. According to Pew, millennials are not as religious as older Americans, but they are as likely to engage in many spiritual practices. They are looking for connection, most often in places other than traditional religious organizations.

“Our whole methodology at Tribe 12 addresses these essential-existential needs—the Five P’s—and then entwine Judaism in them.”

Tribe 12’s fellowship is a great example of designing Jewish engagement that speaks to the Five Ps. The program enables a cohort of young professionals “to work through a curriculum of self-discovery, philanthropy, emotional intelligence and entrepreneurship.” After hundreds of one-on-one conversations with this population, Ross says he has learned they “value mentorship, professional and personal growth.” So the fellowship includes a personal coach.

I’m impressed. Ross is offering a new menu that serves the needs of millennials, creating engagement portals that are outside the framework of conventional Jewish programs.

And, I have to ask, how about the constant whine that millennials have been taught not to pay for anything Jewish?

“That’s a hard one,” says Ross. “I’m taking the long view of a generation that thinks Jewish experience is for free. For now we are saying, if you believe in what we do, donate as little as $12. Later, we’ll ask for more. I’m not afraid to ask. I know we need to educate over time.” Tribe 12 also organizes giving circles that teach about philanthropy in an ethical and sophisticated manner that is grounded in Jewish values and learning. Again, looking to the long view.

Face-to-face Connections

Face-to-face Connections

Ross’s approach illustrates that leaders can grow effective engagement when they quit their whining, lead with understanding and patience—and offer wine. Tribe 12 literally offers up wine at Happy Hour Thursday, a bustling event for meeting Jewish millennials who are not viewed by Ross and Tribe 12’s staff as entitled, self-interested, narcissistic, unfocused and lazy. They are folks yearning for peers, partners, place, profession and purpose. Jewish professionals working with the Five Ps are growing the sixth P: possibilities.


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