Much has been written about the need to engage teens and pre-teens in the Jewish community. And there have been many variations of implementing that idea. We have done much over the years. We can – and will – do more. But first a story.
Each year we send dozens of B’nai Israel students to Eisner, Crane Lake (CLC) and Six Points Sci Tech camps. At Eisner and CLC, the oldest campers are called Olim – literally “those who ascend.” The reference is biblical and Zionist referring to those who go up to Jerusalem or immigrate to Israel. At camp, they literally live at the top of the hill. Each summer the youngest campers (Bonim at Eisner and Nitzanim at CLC) are paired up with an Olim Buddy. The buddies get together a few times each week to hang out, play and have fun. My sons have been both the younger and the older buddy. They still are connected to some of their buddies.
We are going to adapt that lesson. This year, we are asking our Confirmation students (Kitah Yud/Grade 10) to be buddies with Kitah Daled (4th). Kitot Yud Alef (11th) and Hey (5th) will be buddies, as will Yud Bet (12th) and Vav (6th). We don’t have the numbers for a one to one ratio, so we will ask the teens to work as a team.
Over the course of this year, each of the pre-teen grades will have four special programs. Their teenage buddies will work with me and our staff to design and implement the programs with and for their younger buddies. We have a couple of big ideas. First, we believe that the younger buddies will appreciate the connection with the older buddies – who will model the ideas of staying connected with temple and one another, continuing their formal learning at Merkaz, Confirmation and youth groups (all of them).
Second, we believe that the older buddies will get just much out of the arrangement, finding social, emotional and spiritual connection with the younger buddies and with one another. For those teens that chose not to connect through BIFTY, BBYO or some other Jewish teen group, this may be a meaningful way to make more Jewish connections. And some may view it as a chance to do something new.
What will they do? Kitot Daled and Vav will each have prejudice awareness/reduction programs designed for them by the Anti-Defamation League. Hey and Vav will each have a Tikkun Olam (social justice/world repair) program. Daled and Hey will share a Shul-in – an overnight in the Temple as well as a program that is purely social and fun on another occasion. All three grades will have Havdalah family programs, and Kitah Vav will go on Retreat for a whole weekend!
This is not a silver bullet – it is not going to solve all of the challenges we face. We believe that our new program will lift all of our students and help them to form deeper relationships with their peers and connections to the congregation and their own Jewish identities. And we believe it can only work with the active support of parents. So please, be our partner. Encourage your children to participate – vigorously! Help us make it a success!