Blog  Why Youth Group is important!

Why Youth Group is important!

By Hope Chernak, RJE, Director of Youth and Informal Education at Temple Shaaray Tefila, New York, NY

Our Jewish tradition teaches us that our education does not end at age twelve. Informal youth programs should be considered part of the continuation of education for our children’s path of lifelong learning as Jews- not just an option!

I still remember fondly my own experiences growing up at my synagogue, Congregation for Reform Judaism, where my involvement in temple youth groups, NFTY, and summers as a counselor at URJ’s Camp Coleman transformed my Jewish identity significantly.  My childhood congregation was the gateway for so many wonderful educational opportunities and inspired me to work in the Jewish community as an adult.  I was surrounded by wonderful friends, positive adult role models and clergy that cared about shaping my Jewish identity.

I believe that informal youth programs have the potential to be reachable to all youth in our congregations.  Through youth groups and informal education, students are given incredible opportunities to make lifelong friendships and experiences for Jewish learning that is both interactive and personal.  When they get older, many of these programs and synagogue opportunities allow for students to gain leadership experience and through NFTY, our students can network with young Reform Jews across the region and the country.

Getting involved or staying involved with youth group is joint recruitment effort.  Parent support is crucial to having students “choose” to be involved post-Bnai Mitzvah. In fact, this is a partnership with the synagogue education team and clergy. Together we can help create lasting Jewish memories and their foundation for building Jewish identity.  Sometimes a “push” is all a student needs to try a first event (from either the parent or a peer).

Parents: I ask for your assistance and your encouragement in making Temple Youth Group an important part of your student’s life experience to help continue his/her connection with your synagogue and Judaism throughout their lives.  I often hear from parents that pushing involvement in synagogue life post-Bnai Mitzvah is just another “battle” and they don’t have the strength to fight with their student.  I ask you not to consider it a “battle” but rather your duty to help shape their adulthood. Reach out to your synagogues youth leaders, educators, youth professionals, youth committee, or clergy—you are not alone on this journey! WE can help! This is a sacred partnership to create lasting Jewish memories and connections for our students.

A High School student from Temple Shaaray Tefila has written an open letter to explain why he thinks youth group is important and why students should get involved. Please read his inspirational letter below:

 

March 2011

Dear 8th/9th Graders:

I am writing this letter to you, from my perspective – someone who has sat in your seat before…

At the end of my 8th grade year, I was asked a simple yet life-changing question, “Do you want to join TaSTY?” Back then tasty was a word that I used to describe how I felt about eating a size of pizza or a cup of ice cream. This would continue to my thought process about the word “tasty” until just a few months ago. Now, when I think of the word “tasty” – I think of a family, a loving community filled with joy and fun and of a life changing experience.

Here I am, sitting in the ballroom at NFTY convention in Dallas, Texas, where just a few hours prior, this ballroom was filled with over 700 Jewish teens. Through this life changing few days, I’ve realized an important truth about my life. I’ve missed so much — but not being part of TaSTY and NFTY. Yes, the transition between middle school and High school is difficult; however, NFTY and TaSTY are anything but a burden.

Joining TaSTY and NFTY has honestly made me feel connected and I proud to say I’m a Jewish teenager! I have re-learned what it means to be part of a Jewish community. Being Jewish is not solely about the prayers and the torah. Being Jewish is about relating what you have learned about Judaism and applying it to your personal life. It doesn’t have to be separate. TaSTY and NFTY is the best place to express your ideas as a teenager, in a judgment free environment.

As an active member this year in TaSTY, I have heard feedback that services and lack of teen engagement at the synagogue are the two main reasons why students have left after 8th grade. Being in your shoes once before, I know your arguments. I do understand where you are coming from … Let me tell you from my firsthand experience that TaSTY events and NFTY events are completely different. For example, worship services are one of the most powerful aspects of these groups. Hearing everyone’s voices, singing through prayer – has been one of the most emotional moments that I have witnessed in my life so far.

NFTY and TaSTY IS all about the teen engagement! Our voices are actually listened to by our peers and the adults and clergy that work with us. If I had to describe NFTY and TaSTY in a few simple words, I would say: community, family, and love.

So — please before saying “Nah, why would I want to be part of TaSTY and NFTY?” — remember these words. I regret joining so late into high school. Don’t make the same mistake as I did… and please join TaSTY!

Your fellow Shaaray Tefila member (and now active TaSTYite/NFTYite!),

— Matthew Simon