Rabbi Hayim Herring’s first three books were all connected to Judaism. While his latest book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millenial Divide, isn’t that per se, he doesn’t see it as a huge departure.
“I don’t really see it as a switch so much as growth, as an expansion; I just decided that the world has changed,” he said. “There are those view the world dystopian lenses, and those who only view it through utopian. I want to be in the middle. And I felt like connecting with people outside of my own bubble was really critical right now. Because there’s so much ‘othering’, shaming, labeling, that is divisive, and we can do something about.
“I mean, if we created this mess, we can uncreate it.”
Why Herring chose to write the book now wasn’t difficult for him to explain, but it certainly brought up some hard truths about the world we live in at the moment.
“[We’re] in unchartered territory. How do we get through disruptive times? It’s not by looking [down at our phones]; it’s by looking at people and making eye contact, regaining empathy, and having more curiosity,” he said. “And understanding that we all have a stake in each other’s thriving. And that’s why I wrote the book because I felt that we are multigenerational [with a] social inaptitude: We are very fast with our thumbs and fingers. And very clumsy with our emotional intelligence.
“So why did I write it? Because I think there’s a lot at stake right now.”
As a rabbi, Herring is no stranger to working across generations. Herring’s first job out of Jewish Theological Seminary was at Beth El in St. Louis Park, where he quickly learned just how intergenerational his job was.
“Nobody told me that I could be in the preschool in the morning, a lunchtime book review with seniors, working with teens in the afternoon, and an evening adult study group,” he said. “I don’t think the topic of working with different age cohorts came up once in school. And you know what? I’m not sure that it does now.”
Although it reads like a social science textbook at times, Herring doesn’t see it as one. Each of the chapters has action steps of things the reader can do to take it out of academia.
“I don’t think it takes an act of Congress to do a lot of these things, and G-d to help us if we have to wait for that,” he said. “It was very much empowering, self-empowering, and saying ‘We can’t fix what’s happening on a global scale, but there’s so much that we could do locally.'”
Narrowing down the generations to focus on was a challenge. While he wanted to touch on all six generations currently alive, his editor convinced him to focus on two. He settled on Baby Boomers and Millenials, the two largest generations, and the one that both he and his children fit into.
“We didn’t buy millennial children from Amazon. We raised them: parents, educators, grandparents, community members, I think that we kind of give them a hard knock,” he said. “So cell phones: you’re worried about when your kids get one, and I’m worried about when my kids get off of the family plan. That’s the new definition of adulthood.”