Tag Archives: BBYO

Jewish Teens Cross Boundaries to Enhance Engagement

Are the fences coming down?

Are the fences coming down?

The desire to engage as many teens as possible in the Jewish community is part of the reason that two youth groups, BBYO (B’nai Brith Youth Organization)  and NFTY, the youth movement of the Union for Reform Judaism are working together. How did such a thing occur?

A few years ago, the groups met in Boston and found out that their entire membership consisted of only 15% of the total pool of North American teens—combined.  As we see elsewhere, boundaries become blurred often when economies of scale are at play. At the two group’s conventions in Atlanta, GA, they will be joined for a pre-convention meeting of 60 teens from the three other major Jewish youth organizations (NCSY, USY, and Young Judaea. Together, they form (more initials) the CJT, Coalition of Jewish Teens. This is worth a paragraph in the history books! The shared mission of CJT (actually created in 2010) is to unite Jewish teens focused on a shared mission of values and desire to engage more youth. Commendable, and hopefully contagious.

How different might things be if more boundaries were permeable, silos less stifling, and windows to opportunity were wide open to some fresh air.

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Jewish Teens Need More

Great Synagogue interior

  

We need to define Judaism more broadly.  

The Jewish teens I work with in a Jewish community high school are looking for more ways to connect with Judaism other than the synagogue/religious experience. 

The most lush and plush indoor spaces don’t help them feel more connected.  Many don’t get ‘prayer’ or the focus on a ‘higher being’.  It’s as if  belief in God is ‘so yesterday’ and they feel way past that intellectually.

 

At least these teens are in a Jewish academic and social environment on a weekly basis, where we touch on these issues. What about their Jewish friends (most) who don’t attend?

We know that Judaism is more than a religion, but on the American Jewish landscape, it sure seems that’s how we’re defining it for them.  And as long as they see Judaism strictly in those terms they can choose to opt out if they don’t ‘believe’. 

What’s the answer? For teens who don’t go to day school or Jewish camps, it could be sponsored trips to Israel that take place while in high school, instead of waiting for the Birthright bonus in college.  Perhaps incentives that would encourage them to participate in American Jewish World Service trips, Panim, teen fellowship programs and other successful ventures. How about communal scholarships to continue in a Jewish community high school? 

It could be many things that we haven’t even thought of yet. But we need to try.

I’m so glad that these teens are in a setting where we get to discuss these issues together.  When they’re here, they know they’re in a zone of non-judgement and impartiality that is palpable.

Just in the past two weeks, our school partnered with other youth movements and organizations (Habonim Dror, BBYO, Interfaithways) to bring our teens programs that challenged them to become aware of several real issues facing the Jewish community (hate speech, issues faced by interfaith families, personal comfort zones, and more). 

I’m not saying that this experience is the magic potion we need, but working with Jewish teens on these issues in an environment of a Jewish community high school sure makes me feel a lot better about options we’re giving them for future engagement.