Just Jewish

How to Engage Millennials and Build a Vibrant Jewish Future

by Rabbi Dan Horwitz


About this book

“Why aren’t Millennials donating to or serving on the boards of Jewish organizations the way their parents and grandparents did?”

“Why aren’t Millennials joining synagogues?”

“Why aren’t my Millennial children doing Jewish the way I did Jewish?”

“Are there any books that focus on Jewish Millennial engagement and education post-college, sharing strategies and best practices from the field?”

For a religion that is hyper-focused on “l’dor v’dor” — transmitting the Jewish tradition “from generation to generation” — the notion that Millennials just aren’t interested in carrying on Jewish practices or embracing the Jewish commitments of those who came before them poses quite a challenge, both on interpersonal and organizational sustainability levels. As a result, it seems much of the Jewish organizational world is concerned with how to engage Millennials in their offerings. But, if the data collected from reliable sources such as The Pew Research Center are any indication, there is much more work to do.

Enter “The Well,” founded in the summer of 2015 in Metro Detroit to embrace this specific call to action, and which has been doing on-the-ground research and development for Jewish Millennial engagement and education since. Repeatedly recognized as one of the 50 most innovative Jewish organizations in North America and included in the Slingshot Fund’s inaugural “10 to Watch” list in 2020, with funding from both local and national donors, a number of models created by The Well have been embraced by organizations nationally. From custom Jewish-holiday-themed escape rooms that were designed, piloted, and licensed out to other communities around the country, to a blitz fundraising model that has since worked for campus Hillels and JCCs, to a remixed approach to Jewish text study that was a semifinalist for the inaugural Lippman Kanfer Prize in Applied Jewish Wisdom and which received national philanthropic support to pilot in additional cities, The Well — never with an annual budget of more than $500,000 or more than 4 full-time staff — has helped to transform the Millennial engagement and education landscape in Metro Detroit and beyond.

Just Jewish: How to Engage Millenials and Build a Vibrant Jewish Future shares proven techniques and models ready to be adopted by the Jewish world’s myriad organizations, touching on everything from branding, to fundraising, to programmatic approaches, to relationship development, and more, extrapolating lessons from The Well so they can be applied to the Jewish community writ large. As more seasoned generations start to take steps back from Jewish communal leadership, the time to meaningfully engage Millennials to ensure future leadership pipelines (both professional and volunteer) and Jewish vibrancy is NOW, and this book exists to help make it happen!

Advance Praise

“There are hundreds of well-resourced synagogues and Jewish organizations that are trying to figure out how to attract Jewish Millennials to their programs and services. Rabbi Dan is one of a handful of teachers/spiritual leaders who has been a Pied Piper to Jewish Millennials. His book is filled with dozens of examples of how he has done that successfully. Anyone who cares about making Judaism attractive and compelling to Next Gen Jews needs to read this book.”
Rabbi Sid Schwarz, Director, Clergy Leadership Incubator (CLI); Author, Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Future.

“When I visited The Well, I was envious. Why wasn’t my post-college life like that? And The Well felt enticingly hip and innovative compared with any bricks-and-mortar pulpit. Now some of The Well’s Torah is available for all of us. Don’t ‘program for;’ build with. Don’t hawk ‘membership;’ weave relationship. Build a ‘B-Brand,’ nourish pluralism, and don’t fear change. I emerged from this book ready to roll up my sleeves and build my own rabbinate better than before.
Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt, aka “The Velveteen Rabbi.” Author: Crossing The Sea.

“I devoured Just Jewish in a single sitting—but I underlined, scribbled comments, and made notes in the margins because I knew I’d return to this book often, using it as a resource for years to come. Daniel Horwitz’s real-life, real-time, on-the-ground experiences coupled with his wisdom, humor, and contemporary references create the ideal road map for how to ensure today’s young adult seekers become tomorrow’s grown-up torch-bearers for Jewish life. Daniel’s book is a must read for anyone who cares about the Jewish future.”
Zack Bodner, CEO, Oshman Family JCC Palo Alto, Author: Why Do Jewish?

“As the ground shifts beneath the feet of Jewish institutions, this book provides a road map for how to navigate these seismic changes in our community and in our world. Rabbi Horwitz demonstrates a deep knowledge and understanding of what makes Millennials tick, and how to meet them where they are. He brings the reader into conversation with the most current research available while being honest about the challenges inherent in this work. This is an essential handbook for any religious communal professional from any faith background.”
Rabba Rachel Kohl Finegold, Moriah Congregation, Deerfield, IL .

“To anyone who has sought to understand the black box of engaging Millenials, “Just Jewish” is a must read! Thank you Rabbi Dan for sharing your playbook of success with all of us. This book will shape the conversation as to how we think about the Jewish future.”
Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, Park Avenue Synagogue, NY; Editor: Jewish Theology in Our Time: A New Generation Explores the Foundations and Future of Jewish Belief.

“Chock full of important insights and innovative tools for engaging Millennials in Jewish life, this book is a must-read for Jewish professionals and for anyone who cares about the future of the American Jewish community.”
Sarah Hurwitz, Author, Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life–in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There)

“In Just Jewish, Rabbi Dan Horwitz provides a superb roadmap and guide to the Millennials, a generation of Jews that has generally remained distant from the traditional institutions and practices of Jewish life. Drawing from his incomparably successful experience Horwitz wisely provides the necessary language and tactics for effectively engaging this unique generation. This is an essential book for those of us who care about the future of Jewish life.”
Rabbi Peter Rubenstein, Emeritus Director, Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at 92Y; Rabbi Emeritus, Central Synagogue.

“Rabbi Horwitz has given today’s Jewish communal leadership an invaluable roadmap to a strong and vibrant future. Meticulously researched and cogently argued, this book should be on the desk of every rabbi, cantor, Jewish professional and lay leader committed to the survival and renewal of American Judaism.”
Rabbi Yonatan Dahlen, Congregation Shaarey Zedek.

“There are few Jewish leaders who have devoted more thought to and spent more personal time on the critical issue of engaging Millennial American Jews than Rabbi Dan Horwitz. In an engaging but fearless manner, Horwitz raises the tough questions about our communal challenges in engaging young leaders and provides thoughtful and nuanced suggestions for a path forward. Just Jewish should be considered required reading for anyone serious about the existential question of how to assure that American Jews remain connected to their identities.”
Daniel Elbaum, President & CEO of JAID; Head of North America – The Jewish Agency for Israel.

“As a rabbi who ran a very large Jewish young adult project in Boston and now as the founder of Modern JewISH Couples, I am grateful for Dan’s book which lays out the strategies, practices and pedagogies critical to working with the Millennial population. Not only was Dan a great colleague in this work, but The Well demonstrated creative models for young adult engagement that inspired my work and many others. But these models are not just for Millennials, they are adaptable to other populations that you might serve. The Jewish future depends on thoughtful leaders building models of rich Jewish learning, joy and relationships. Dan shares deep insights in innovation, engagement, and Jewish wisdom that are a beautiful blueprint for building vibrant Jewish community in the years to come. From Tot Shabbat to Friendseder, from meetings over cups of coffee to hosting Jewish learning gatherings in 3rd spaces, from fundraising from foundations to building participant investment, this book will help you in your work to make Jewish communities of meaning inclusive of Millennials and beyond.”
Rabbi Jen Gubitz, Founder, Modern JewISH Couples.

“Just Jewish is well-researched, highly accessible, and packed with valuable insights, compelling readers to consider their assumptions and open up important conversations about how to navigate the changing Jewish landscape. For leaders who want to build communities of belonging that help young people feel excited and proud to be Jewish, this book is required reading!”
Kohenet Keshira HaLev Fife, founder of Kesher Pittsburgh and former Executive Director of Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute.

“From the moment I met him (some ten years ago) I knew that Dan Horwitz was the kind of transformational leader so desperately needed by our contemporary faith community. That sense has only been reinforced over and again in our work together. And now he has written this book which will serve as an authoritative guide to anyone concerned about the next generation and their commitment to the Jewish future. That should be all of us.”
Rabbi Terry Bookman, EITZAH; Author: Beyond Survival.

“Rabbi Dan Horwitz claims to be writing about Millennials and the Jewish future. In essence his book is about a growing number, if not a majority of American Jews in the present. In authoring this book, Dan has also masterfully applied his unique perspectives to identify the current trends and patterns of normative Jewish behaviors that can be aptly applied to many Jewish communities and a wide variety of Jewish institutions. Importantly, Dan is not scared of penning what many may be thinking, but seldom have articulated in such a public forum. Having known Dan and his work for over a decade, his growth as a leader and changemaker has also been evident, learning from many, but mostly from the people he has served with such passion, respect and integrity.”
Dr. David Bryman, CEO, The Jewish Education Project

Just Jewish is a worthy addition to the new Jewish bookshelf that is catalyzing new thinking and practices for the Jewish future we’re just beginning to build.  Much is unfamiliar in the new Jewish landscape but with imaginative practitioners like Rabbi Dan Horwitz our collective future can still be vibrant and compelling.”
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President, Union for Reform Judaism


About the Author

Rabbi Dan Horwitz is committed to fostering a joyful Judaism that is inclusive, inspiring and relevant. A research-informed practitioner, in addition to rabbinic ordination, he holds a BA, three MAs and a JD.

Now serving as the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville, he previously served as a rabbi of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Metro Detroit and as the CEO of the Alper JCC in Miami.

Dan was the founding director and rabbi of The Well, which was repeatedly recognized as one of the most innovative Jewish organizations in North America. He also was the organizational rabbi for Moishe House, the global leader in engaging young Jewish adults in their 20s.

Designated by the Jewish daily Forward as one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis, Dan is lover of hummus, playing basketball, and Jewish music jam sessions. He makes his home in Nashville with his spouse Miriam and their three rambunctious children.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Rabbi Paul Yedwab

Introduction: Liberal Judaism’s Tefillin Cart

Chapter 1: A Quick Primer on Millennials
Chapter 2: Your Teeth Are Stained
Chapter 3: The 5 Best Friends Anyone Could Have
Chapter 4: “Just Jewish”
Chapter 5: How Field of Dreams Got It Wrong
Chapter 6: The High Cost of “Free”
Chapter 7: How to Raise $100k from Millennials in Three Days
Chapter 8: The Remixed Beit Midrash
Chapter 9: Getting Rid Of (the word) God

Afterword by Zack Bodner
‍ ‌
Books Referenced
Organizations Referenced
About The Author