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Gen-X Spokeswoman Says Theme of “Jewish Continuity” Doesn’t Resonate With Young People

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
November-December 2001

WJC President Stirs Debate By Urging Israel To Dismantle Its Settlements  

Speaking as  
the voice of her generation, Amy Tobin, manager of cultural arts and community  
development at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, told the annual  
convention of the United Jewish Communities’ General Assembly that its  
signature communal goal — ensuring Jewish “continuity” — is failing to engage  
Jews in their 20s, 30s and 40s.




The Forward  
reports (Nov. 23,2001): “For one thing, she told the assembled Jewish lay  
leaders that her longtime boyfriend is not Jewish — an act akin to waving a  
handgun at a Million Moms March rally. ... She said that, ‘The messages we hear  
are that Jewish continuity is in danger, and it feels, as if all organized  
Jewish efforts bend toward that crisis. This does not resonate for us, because  
we feel as connected to human survival as Jewish survival.’ Ms. Tobin described  
her cohorts as people who feel Jewish in everything they do, but who actively  
seek out cultural diversity. They deeply believe in the Jewish concept of  
‘healing the world,’ but are more likely to relate to the words of civil rights  
leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. than to the Jewish precepts contained in  
the Mishnaic collection ‘Ethics Of Our Fathers.’”




As products of  
America’s open society and multicultural environment, young American Jews “have  
assimilated the non-Jewish world into our worlds,” Ms. Tobin said. “Appeal to  
us in our totality, as multi-dimensional people and as Jews.” If not, she  
warned, organized American Jewry can kiss her generation goodbye.




The Forward  
describes Amy Tobin in these terms: “While her Jewish background is impeccable  
and her father, Gary Tobin, is one of the Jewish communal world’s most  
respected researchers, her work at the JCC is skirting the cutting edge of  
Jewish culture and identity. The Hub, a performing arts program she founded at  
the San Francisco JCC, often features performances by both non-Jewish and  
Jewish artists. What makes the events Jewish, Ms. Tobin said, is that each adds  
a dimension of Jewish culture and tradition to which people her age would  
normally flock. A recent Sukkot celebration she organized exemplified Tobin’s  
vision. Held at a Bay Area night club ... the evening’s program featured Jewish  
as well as African American, Sicilian, Chinese and Sri Lankan performers who  
took on the theme of ‘home, wandering and displacement’ through poetry,  
chasidic stones and hip-hop music. Its audience members described their ethnic  
backgrounds as Jewish-Irish, Buddhist, Zimbabwean, Jewish Zionist liberal,  
Lebanese/Eastern Orthodox, Polish Quaker and ‘Jewish-fill-in-the-blank.’”




Ms. Tobin said  
that, “We’re not trying to go around and make people marry each other.” But she  
is trying to create a sense of community among members of her generation who are  
becoming “increasingly individualistic and dangerously un-communal ... I try to  
mirror our daily lives in what I do.”




She expressed  
the view that, “If you try to force kids to be Jewish in the way the Jewish  
community typically tries to, in the freedom of America, they get knocked out.  
... I appreciate and respect the sacrifices of generations of Jews who fought  
to be part of the fabric of American society. Now we are.”


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