Stuart Himmelfarb has been studying the baby boomer generation, and what he’s learning is the foundation of his new career — running an organization to engage Jewish boomers with their cultural and religious communities.
“I consider myself an extremely fortunate guy because I’m able to embark on this initiative, which not only connects me to the Jewish community, but also fires up my entrepreneurial zeal. We see an incredible opportunity to understand what boomers are doing, thinking feeling at this stage of their lives,” the 60-year-old New York City resident said.
The new organization, called B3/The Jewish Boomer Platform, was born from research conducted by Stuart’s business partner, David Elcott, the Taub Professor of Public Service at New York University’s Wagner School. The research indicated that while the organized Jewish community has many initiatives for young people and for the geriatric community, there was nothing focused on baby boomers.
“So we decided in the absence of any initiatives, we would create B3 with the goal of getting boomers onto the agenda of Jewish organizations and Jewish life in general,” he said.
B3 reflects Stuart’s own experience and goals. He spent the first part of his career in marketing and advertising and created and sold his own marketing and research firm (twice). At 52, he went to work for the Jewish Federation in northern New Jersey to direct a leadership program and later took over the agency’s marketing.
His sense of “community” extends well beyond the New York metropolitan area. Stuart has helped lead 10 trips to New Orleans with other volunteers to help rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
B3 — the “B” stands for boomer, and the “3” stands for the third stage of life — aims to make sure boomers have options as they move beyond the second stage of life, in which they focused on career and family. “We basically feel that many boomers, as they approach this time in their lives, are looking to reboot a little bit and start again.”
Increasing life expectancy — boomers can expect to live 20 years longer than their parents — creates new opportunities for boomers and subsequent generations. “What some people don’t understand, though, is that those 20 years are not at the end of our lives, but in the middle.”
Networking was his first step
When Stuart decided it was time to launch something new, he started with some networking. That’s how he learned about Elcott’s research. Although he knew the challenges of starting and running a business, Stuart has encountered a few new hurdles.
For example, because baby-boomer issues aren’t on the agenda of many potential funding organizations, B3 has had to step back a bit and learn how to educate its potential clients about the issue.
“We’ve had to be very flexible in our project to adapt to the lack of response out there. We now recognize that before we can even hope to create new models for engagement for local communities, we first need to be sure that planners, policy-makers and funders all understand the nature of boomers nowadays and how their lives and goals have changed.”
They’ve received some helpful advice about how to fine-tune their message, and they’re in the process of gathering more research and a better understanding of what’s happening in the boomer marketplace.
In his new career, Stuart also has had to deal with changes in technology and social media. “I need reverse mentoring from young people so that I can better understand the new tools that are out there,” he said.
The non-profit has received one grant for “capacity building” but is otherwise self-funded, and they keep expenses low by sharing a small office space. “If you really try, you can do a lot of things without a lot of money.”
Stuart works well over 40 hours a week at B3, “but it doesn’t feel that way. It doesn’t feel like 40 hours in a rigid job would feel.” In general his life is more relaxed, he said, with lots of flexibility built in. And he and his wife have moved from the suburbs to TriBeCa, a neighborhood in lower Manhattan. Stuart even has time for other volunteer work.
While baby boomers are coming to grips with the realities of aging, they also have a unique opportunity to “try it again,” Stuart said. “That’s the third chapter, and that’s the sweet spot we’re addressing with B3.”
Baby boomers are the best-educated generation compared to those that preceded them, Stuart said. “Let’s keep that going and let it enhance our lives and other people’s as well.”
Stuart said he believed baby boomers might have squandered some of their opportunities over the years, but a longer life expectancy presents new chances. “We can make a lot of things right.”
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