A little bit of good news is not a bad thing once in a while, and the revelation that a growing number of college students are opting to stay in Philadelphia post-graduation is good news indeed. Beyond the obvious benefits to the region as a whole, the trend portends a vital boost for our Jewish community — if we handle it properly.
The post-college population has long posed a challenge for organized Jewry: how to engage those who are out on their own but have no traditional incentive — like marriage or children — to connect Jewishly.
That challenge is exacerbated in today's world, where young adults — the so-called "millenials" — face a dizzying array of choices, all competing for their time and attention.
The demographic situation in our aging community compels us to seize any opportunity for engaging young Jews. The 2009 "Jewish Population Study of Greater Philadelphia" found that just 19 percent of the region's more than 200,000 Jews are between the ages of 18 and 34.
So the finding by Campus Philly that 48 percent of non-native Philadelphians are sticking around post-graduation is most welcome. This represents a huge jump from 2004, when a similar survey found that only 29 percent of graduates stayed.
Employment opportunities will clearly be the key to enticing these young adults to make Philadelphia their home for the long haul. But quality-of-life issues will also play a role. And it is at least in part up to our rich and diverse community whether or not the Jewish factor becomes a part of the equation.
To what degree will the organized community provide social, cultural and educational programming that speaks to this next generation? How well will we nurture and support the network of accessible and innovative programming that already exists to connect this cohort? We are blessed with several vibrant independent minyans and organizations like Federation's Renaissance group, Tribe 12 and the Collaborative, which sponsored a Chanukah-themed program at the art museum, and the Chevra, which staged a sold-out performance of the popular Chasidic rocker Matisyahu. These and other groups exist in our midst, thanks to forward-thinkers and funders who understand that the next generation's Jewish community will look different from today's.
While investing in Hillel and other Jewish student groups is an important end in itself, realizing that some of these graduates could become active participants beyond the Ivory Tower justifies an even greater investment in time and resources, and the development of a more symbiotic relationship.
It's easy to focus on the threats to us as Jews and our community. In this instance, let's seize upon any chance to tap into the younger set, to help nurture meaningful Jewish connections right here in Philadelphia. They are, after all, our future.