This past week, I have been writing a case study about the Senior Citizens Center established at the YM-YWHA of Washington Heights-Inwood in 1973. As a result, I have been thoroughly rereading the minutes of the meetings held by the Y's Board of Directors in the 1970s. Although the Board devoted much of its discussion to its new programs for older adults, the minutes reflect that the Board was also concerned by declining participation in their programs for teenagers and young adults. They often discussed strategies to reengage lapsed members and recruit new ones.
One suggestion that arose again and again was a "rock" concert [puzzling quotation marks theirs, not mine]. Board members proposed a rock concert on three separate occasions in 1971 and 1972, without ever elaborating on what bands they could possibly get to play such a show. Neither did they reflect on the fact that teenagers may not be interested in an act or band that a group of middle-aged adults found palatable.
In 1978, the Y actually did follow through on the strategy. In May of that year, the Y's Teen Supervisor, Stan Friedman, suggested to the members of the Board's Program Committee that they re-launch the Teen Program with a rock concert. The minutes recorded: "Members would be allowed to bring one friend. Again, a special invitation would go to the list of Jewish Teens. Stan said that a former gym member of the Y, Dennis Minogue, is now a band manager."
The concert was held in December, and in the intervening months the goal shifted from recruiting teenagers to recruiting college-aged young adults into a new Y program for this age group. Although staff member Martin Englisher reported to the Y Board that 110 people had attended the show, most were non-Jewish high school students who were not Y members. Englisher concluded, "It was felt that the concert, although it went well, did not really serve the Y's purpose."
Most remarkably, the rock concert continues to be an idea that adults suggest for teen recruitment and engagement. I texted a friend who works with teenagers in the Jewish community about the Y's history with rock concerts--admittedly, my description was hyperbolic--and she responded that this is an idea she still hears with regularity, despite rock music's precipitous decline in popularity in the 21st century.
The problem with suggesting a rock concert, besides its being freighted with nostalgia, is that it is not something that teenagers need. A rock concert is something that adults think teens want, and no one likes to be told what they should want or what they should find meaningful. With history on my side, I urge the adults who lead Jewish communal organizations to retire this strategy.