New Web site to reach out to ‘Generation J

NEW YORK, July 31 (JTA) — For years, they’ve been considered a sort of lost generation of Jews.

Out of college, highly mobile and — to a large extent — unmarried, Jews in their 20s and 30s historically have been underserved by an American Jewish community focused on children, students, families and senior citizens.

Now, several key national players are betting that the way to reach out to this cohort — which they are labeling “Generation J” in a play on the familiar “Generation X” — is through the Internet.

The United Jewish Communities, the umbrella for North American Jewish federations, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation and Jewish Family and Life, a nonprofit Jewish media company, are teaming up to develop an ambitious Web portal for young Jews.

Plans are still in the early stages, but the new site aims to “attract large numbers of 20- and 30-somethings to be engaged in Jewish life” and facilitate communication among the range of Jewish groups that reach out to them, according to a mission statement.

According to Yossi Abramowitz, editor, publisher and founder of Jewish Family and Life, “There’s not one single endeavor out there for this age group that has the budget, know-how and marketing savvy to get a super-critical mass of young adults and to find them on the Web on a regular basis.

“Instead of each group trying to do that — what we call making cyber- Shabbos for themselves — because we’re acting in concert this will be a critical mass of people coming in through the main gateway,” Abramowitz said.

Jewish Family and Life, which hosts more than 15 Jewish Web sites, already has a site called GenerationJ. The site initially was created with the UJC, but has been running independently for the past year.

GenerationJ currently gets 15,000 to 20,000 visitors a month, but is much more limited in scope than the mega-site envisioned, with about eight articles at a time. Current ones include “Mahjong? At Your Age?” and “Is Affirmative Action Good for the Jews?”

It also hosts occasional off-the-Web events, like a recent poetry slam — competitive poetry readings — in New York.

The future portal likely would offer more interactive features than GenJ does and would link users to various programs, events and organizations in the Jewish world.

It is not clear how soon the new site will be up and running. The site’s planners recently held two focus groups, and are now preparing a business plan. Work will not begin on the site until additional funding partners come aboard.

While many established Jewish organizations long have had “young adult” groups or singles events with mixed results, in recent years a number of new groups and projects have emerged that focus more directly on 20- and 30- somethings.

Among them are Makor, a Manhattan cultural center, and GesherCity, a national franchise of outreach groups that link young Jews to each other and to local Jewish activities.

Several Jewish foundations and mainstream Jewish organizations also have come together to support young Jews creating their own innovative projects. For example, the San Francisco-based Joshua Venture is funding eight “fellows,” whose projects range from an edgy magazine called “Heeb” to a program training Jewish teens to be film makers.

Single Jews also are targeted by a seemingly endless array of Jewish dating Web sites, many of them for-profit enterprises.

Participants at the recent focus groups expressed little interest in more Jewish singles or dating services, said Susan Sherr, assistant director of the UJC’s Jewish Renaissance and Renewal pillar, the UJC committee involved in the project.

“Dating was mentioned maybe once in the focus groups,” said Sherr, who is 32 and thus a member of the targeted audience. “They were much more interested in arts and culture, social action and information access.”

One challenge for the new mega-site will be appealing to as broad a market as possible, say those involved in the planning.

“Our needs, even for those who are marginally or moderately affiliated, are so different,” said Laini Wolman, 25, a program associate at the Schusterman Foundation.

“Some of us are pulled in through arts and culture, but what about those of us who are really interested in sports or who are outdoors people?” Wolman said.

“There are several different audiences and sub-audiences, so whatever approach we take has to appeal to as many as possible, but we also have to be realistic.”

Sherr noted that the site may have to balance various audiences and needs when dealing with touchy issues like intermarriage and interdating.

“We were discussing what should the values be of a site like this and someone raised the point that it should be welcoming of people who are not Jewish, because many Jewish people this age are products of intermarriage, dating non-Jews or have significant relationships with people who aren’t Jewish,” Sherr said.

“The question is, How are the Jewish organizations going to feel about funding things like that?”

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