NEW YORK — Welcoming teens into Jewish life is both one of the most important and seemingly challenging endeavors of the Jewish community.
The rapid decline in teen engagement in Jewish life post-b’nai mitzvah is well documented and depressing. It’s also an entirely reversible trend, but only if the Jewish community approaches teen engagement in a new way — one that recognizes the whole teen and values her or him as an equal partner in creating experiences that add meaning to her or his life.
Jewish teens today are deeply thoughtful, inquisitive and ambitious. They can also be narcissistic and attached to technology. Most of today’s teens are vastly different than a generation ago, and in many ways different than a decade ago. These changes are due in large part to the central role of technology and the nearly endless opportunities for personal customization a click away.
We know this because The Jewish Education Project led major research to learn about Jewish teens from Jewish teens. We heard directly from them about their lives, their views on spirituality, their ambitions, their fears, their feelings toward friends and family, how they form their identities and more. We’ve compiled and analyzed the findings into a new report, Generation Now: Understanding and Engaging Jewish Teens Today.
The report’s insights are a wake-up call. Our community needs to work with teens to create experiences that address all aspects of their lives.
Just a few insights from Generation Now show the depth of Jewish teens today:
› Jewish teens want programs of substance that add value to some facet of their life.
› While many teens still see Judaism as a religion, many more relate to being Jewish in language commonly associated with ethnicity, culture, heritage or tribal affiliation.
› Being a minority group in the U.S. is something that many Jewish teens highly value and feel pride in, but they do not view themselves as being special for this reason. In fact, many Jewish teens enjoy involving non-Jewish friends in “Jewish activities.”
The challenge now is to take the report’s insights and have them inform our community’s approach to Jewish teen education and engagement. We must move beyond thinking about teens as passive recipients of Jewish learning experiences. Instead, we must begin designing initiatives and programs with Jewish teens, for Jewish teens.
David Bryfman, Ph.D., is the chief innovation officer at The Jewish Education Project, which is a beneficiary agency of UJA Federation of New York.