Rabbis’ Survey, Book Project, Looks At Generational Unity In The Digital Age

Rabbis Jeffrey Schein and Hayim Herring have both written books recently, and as it turns out, their areas of interest and the coronavirus era have proved the perfect match for the two Pennsylvania natives to work on their next project together.

“We are THE team to write this book,” said Herring. “It’s phenomenal to me: A thought partner who has the same sort of crazy, passionate ideas, but also, there are discrete areas of expertise that we have too. So we’re excited because what we’re doing together we definitely could not do on our own.”

The book Herring speaks of is actually the third step in their process. The first step is a survey that TC Jewfolk is helping the pair launch. “L’Dor V’Dor in the Digital Age” marries intergenerational relationships and divides, which is Herring’s specialty, as they change and are impacted by digital technology — which is Schein’s area of expertise — before, during, and in the aftermath of COVID. 

Schein thinks the idea for a project may have been his, but both agree that it isn’t really important who came up with it.

“I had just read Hayim’s book, Connecting Generations, and he was a commentator to my book, Text Me: Ancient Jewish Wisdom Meets Contemporary Technology,” Schein said. “So that had brought us together. But isn’t there a natural confluence? I’m a sucker for two streams of thought coming together to form a third. It felt, to me, that there was a third book to come out of the confluence of our interests.”

The discussions for the project had started pre-COVID, and Herring had a proposal for a book that he sent to his publisher in January 2020, which went up in smoke by the time coronavirus really started raging.

“We can take not only where we left off, but especially as COVID began to be manifested, what else could we learn? Because this has been an unfortunate laboratory for trends that were happening,” Herring said. “Multi-generational families accelerating, technology accelerating, and suddenly, you’ve got great-grandparents on Zoom. And this was suddenly an unfortunate laboratory to think about this idea of a book that emerged over time.”

The survey, the rabbis said, is going to try and capture a group from 16-year-old to Boomer-plus. The data from the survey will lead to the second step in their project: a series of structured, intergenerational conversations.

“Usually, when we talk about generations, we actually perpetuate this sort of age segregation,” Herring said. “We’re going to bring members of four generations together in several structured conversations, to create an opportunity for them to engage in dialogue, to listen to one another, and to see what else are can we learn about different generational perspectives. And where are the shared opportunities that are apparent, or that are kind of hidden, that we can help to highlight.”

Part two will be done, Herring said, by early this summer. Schein said the book is projected to be published in summer 2022. As data become available, they will be writing short pieces so that people have information as soon as it’s available — even if it’s not the whole publication.

“I don’t know that we’ll report on the structured conversations, because that really is too much of a teaser,” for the book, Herring said. “But the survey data can be very helpful now, and the survey data are going to help inform that large vision of inter Jewish intergenerational community.”

The project is both of the moment, but also useful in a post-COVID world.

“What Jeffrey and I are saying is COVID-19 as a case study for future disruptions of one kind or another,” Herring said. “So what can we learn from COVID-19 in terms of preparedness for future disruption so that the generations continue to engage with each other and don’t split apart?”

Herring and Schein’s survey is currently open to the Twin Cities Jewish public, here.