What’s in a Name? Preparing to Reignite Synagogue Youth Engagement

This is a repost of a piece I wrote today for rj.org, the Reform Movement’s blog.  Thank you to our entire Task Force for Youth Engagement on the good work we’ve all started!

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While at this past year’s URJ Biennial, I attended the launch of the movement’s Campaign for Youth Engagement. As I heard the different stories, as colleagues and friends stood up and spoke of what’s going on with teens in their congregations, it resonated with my own experiences, and I realized that we all share in our struggles together. We have students and families dedicated to Jewish education that leads up to the bar and bat mitzvah experience. What about the day after the students become b’nai mitzvah? Our movement is facing an 80% drop-off rate after b’nai mitzvah. It is long past time to re-energize and rededicate ourselves to our youth.

I looked at others from my congregation, Temple Shalom in Newton, MA, who were with me at the launch, and one said, “We need our own Campaign for Youth Engagement.” He understood, the onus is on us to inspire our youth. Our congregations seem to be the front lines of this campaign.

Since that realization at Biennial, we have gotten to work.

We began with a couple of insights: Engaging our youth is a project that requires partnerships among parents, professional staff, and the youth. And, we know we have to take baby steps if we want to succeed. We need to be engaged in strategic action, rather than getting caught up in the process of planning. With each small step forward, we would be both reflective on that step, and inspired to define what could come next.

After those insights, the first step to take seemed obvious. We lacked that group of parents who were dedicated to working on youth engagement. We were in need of a group of parents, dedicated to their children’s Jewish experiential learning. There had been a youth committee for many years, but it had been some time since they had met for any substantial purpose. Both our lay and professional leadership agreed that a group of parents dedicated to engaging our youth in Jewish communal life could guide us into new and exciting times.

And so, our youth committee was retired by name, and a new task force was appointed. Temple Shalom now has a Task Force for Youth Engagement. What is in that name? Yes, we have brought our congregation in line with the direction of the movement. More significantly, in our name is our organizing principle: This group is all about figuring out how our youth can best be an integral part of our vibrant Jewish community.

This task force, comprised of new, emerging leaders in our congregation, is working to define our next steps. We do not yet know what will come of our own Campaign for Youth Engagement. We have reinvigorated ourselves to this work, exemplified in the simple act of renaming our group, and we have a great group of parent-leaders ready to roll up their sleeves to begin. I’m confident that we have set ourselves on a meaningful path.

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