Are the young too selfish?

The UJC made something of a daring move Monday morning, opening up its only plenary of the day to seven young Jewish innovators and activists – leaders that stray from the typical mold of the federation “leader,” who is much older and much wealthier than those on display this morning.

They included a young up and coming film producer, Ari Sandel, who won an Academy Award for his short film, “West Bank Story,” a farsical musical about a love that springs between the scions of two warring fast food joints – one kosher and one Hallal – in Israel. There was also our own Dan Sieradski, a Jewish Web-maven who in his other life outside JTA is known as Mobius, the Orthodox Anarchist, and is prone to post-Zionist outbursts.

Despite Sandel’s admission to JTA after his speaking engagement that he knew little to nothing about the federation system, and despite Sieradski giving the UJC elders on hand some serious mussar – generally that the federation system needs to drop more cash into helping the young develop their own initiatives – the plenary was well received by the federation stalwarts on hand.

Most beamed like proud parents after the plenary. And, afterwards, Sandel was swarmed by local federation leaders who wanted to bring him home to their sugar mamas.

Interestingly, the most harsh criticism came from some of the young leaders in attendance, who felt that, perhaps, the young speakers at the plenary came off as a little selfish.

Specifically, they were irked at remarks from Sarah Chasin, a senior at George Washington University, who took a year off of college to live and volunteer in Katrina-torn Mississippi.

During her speech, Chasin said that she felt good about helping out others, but ultimately she learned that helping others was mostly about herself: “I have always done community serivce,” she said. “I do community service for me, I do it to meet people, I do it to feel connected, most importantly I do it to learn. I do it for me.”

“The young people end up coming off as these really entitled individuals because it becomes all about what can the system do for me,” said one young professional from a successful young Jewish dot-org in a conversation with JTA shortly after the plenary.

The professional, who wish not to be identified, was backed up by Aaron Bisman, the founder of one of the most successful new projects out there, JDub records, which initially produced and managed Matisyahu. “I dont think that is the entirety of what it is,” Bisman said. “But it is coming off like that. Particularly some of the speakers are terribly inexperienced and I think that the UJC could have helped along some of these younger speakers. It is such a wonderful opportunity they gave them, and I think they wanted people to be able to say wha they wanted to say.”

The fear among some under-35s in the lobby was that perhaps in the pursuit of individualism, young folks are being a bit short sighted and selfish. And that fear has extended to the blogosphere, where one commentor on Sieradski’s speech on Jewcy.com, responded as follows:

“Judaism is not the ultimate extra-curricular activity, fad, or start-up … it’s a way of life that (if it is to last and have meaning) must be animated by a collective spirit and mutual endeavor … and not refracted solely through the prism of the mercurial ‘individual’ as committed or as clever or as creative as s/he might be.”

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