My congregation, Lakeside was happy to host over 70 High School Leaders from Chicago area NFTY today. These teen leaders ages 15-18 met each other, learned different skills to become a leader, hung out, ate, studied some more skills, had dinner together and then went home. Lakeside’s LCTY group had helped plan this event and did a wonderful job. I could go on with the platitudes but I know many times I am like a broken record when talking about youth group.
I know in my heart of hearts that these teens are future leaders of the Jewish community and perhaps starting with statement like this will not garner the additional participants that I would like to add to all types of Youth engagement. I realize that it might be better to start with skills that can be gained by becoming involved as a teen. Here are just a few areas where teens gain expertise from youth group: leadership, communication, social media, making friends, speaking in front a group and planning programs and all of this steeped in Judaism.
I have always discussed with my Rabbi, Ike Serotta, that our kids that stay in Religious School through confirmation and then through youth group and working in our school have a much better chance of, well how can I say this, “staying out of trouble.” We have seen it time and time and time again. I say it so much that I think I am a broken record or an iTunes song in a loop. I know that Youth group be it NFTY, BBYO, Young Judea, fill in your youth group name here is not the answer for everyone. I just wish more someone’s would try it out.
The 70 teens today at Lakeside will become leaders, go on to work at our camps and are wonderful teens. I hope that we can attract more teens to become engaged. I have seen with my own eyes the difference it can make when teens are engaged and when they are not engaged. Engagement can also be at public school, through sports, drama, dance, and the many extra curricular activities. My passion is Jewish education and that’s how I hope to attract and engage students for as long as I can.
If I am really lucky those that we engage go on to become Jewish educators, Rabbis, Cantors, or Youth group advisors and my record so far is pretty good…but it could always be better.