The Ice Cream Cone Approach to Youth Engagement

Recently, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been full of stories and photos of campers and counselors getting ready for their return to camp, their trip to Israel or their adventure with a service-learning program.

I am so happy for all them. They are following a path that we, in the professional Jewish world, have set out for them. We’ve done studies, we’ve collected anecdotes and many of us rely on our own histories to understand the life impacting importance of a Jewish summer camp experience, a summer of service learning or a summer trip to Israel. We look to many of these young people to be our future leaders and we are continually thinking about ways to engage them upon their return. Those are all wonderful and important things to be thinking about and we should keep thinking about all of those things.

However, in the meantime, there are thousands and thousands of Jewish youth who are not going to summer camp, not going to Israel, not participating in a Jewish summer experience this year. They are the homebodies, or the ones in summer school.  Maybe they are the ones working to contribute to their family finances. Some have medical issues that need attention. There are the musicians and the artists in our midst who need the blank slate of summer to create. There are those who need or want to be home for any number of other valid and important reasons.

Let’s think about what we can do for them – not what we can do for them sometime in the future, but what we can do for them this summer, right now. How can we (the established Jewish community) remind them that they too are valuable to us, that they too have a future with us, and that they too contribute to our community? We cannot leave youth engagement solely to the wonderful camp and trip staff.

We all need to be involved. But involvement doesn’t need to be complex and it doesn’t need to be heavy and intense or scary. It doesn’t need to involve sitting around conference tables and scheduling meetings. It can be as simple, fun and tasty as taking a walk with an ice cream cone. What if the leaders in our communities spent an hour having ice cream with a younger person who is at home this summer? It could be a win/win situation. Eating an ice cream cone with a younger person is generally more fun than eating one alone and choosing a flavor is more enjoyable in conversation.

Imagine what September could look like if, over the summer, youth professionals, rabbis, cantors, educators, temple presidents, synagogue board members, and teens in leadership positions each had one ice cream cone date with a younger person. What if, before the ice cream melted, the younger person had discovered someone who listened to them, who respected them, who cared about them, someone who wanted to help them figure out their connection to Judaism? Not someone who told them what to do or how to connect, but someone who listened to their passions, learned about their spark and helped them figure out their particular place in the chain of our tradition.

And, what if all the older teens and adults who are committed to our communities, had the chance to share their stories, to get to know a younger person, to have an opportunity to learn about what the younger person was thinking about, what mattered to them, and who they were as individuals, not as a demographic?

I know that isn’t all it would take.  There would have to be follow up and more actions. However, it could be a start.  It could be that one small step.  It could be the lighting of the match. Or to invoke Humphrey Bogart, “It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Think about it. And, after you have thought about it, invite someone out for ice cream. (And if your diet doesn’t include ice cream, improvise!)

I think you will be glad you did.

I scream. You scream.  We all scream for ice cream.

Originally posted at HearHereParent

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Margie Bogdanow

About Margie Bogdanow

Margie Bogdanow, L ICSW, serves as a Senior Engagement Specialist for the Union for Reform Judaism’s Campaign for Youth Engagement. In addition, she is a coach, educational consultant and parent educator in the Greater Boston area working with Combined Jewish Philanthropies on a variety of projects involving supplemental education, teen engagement and professional development. In addition, Margie is a member of the Hebrew College Adult Learning Faculty, teaching "Parenting your Teen Through a Jewish Lens".

One Response to “The Ice Cream Cone Approach to Youth Engagement”

  1. avatar

    I don’t even know where to begin. Before I made it to the end of this post, I thought it was a joke. Let me try to unpack my reaction…

    1. The youth engagement “problem” is the movement’s problem, not the youths’ problem.

    2. Considering that a relatively small minority of RJ children go to camp, the condescending description of kids who stay home in this post suggests to me a total lack of grasp of what the movement’s families actually look like, or how they work.

    3. In my experience, Jewishly checked-out parents lead to Jewishly checked-out children. That’s how parental modeling works. Reaching out to youth directly–and reaching around parents–doesn’t solve the problem at all. Moreover, telling Jewish adults to reach out to youth with no reference made to their parents raises potential red flags. Should any adult be reaching out to any parent’s children without their knowledge?

    4. Ice cream cones? Seriously? As in, “Hey kid, let me buy you an ice cream cone and talk to you about your relationship to Judaism?” Am I the only one who finds that an idea both very silly and not a little bit uncomfortable?

    5. It may very well be that some of our children–and I would bet, many–know well what RJ has to offer and frankly just don’t care. Talking with Jewish youth over ice cream doesn’t change the fundament of RJ synagogue communities and programming that fall flat with youth of all ages.

    What I find most disappointing about the ongoing “Campaign for Youth Engagement” is the effort’s built-in assumption that the problem is merely one of outreach. If that’s true at all, it’s a problem of parental outreach. I fail to see what we expect adolescent and young-adult Jews to actually do in our ossified synagogue communities if we do manage to get them to “re-engage” with Judaism. Outside of Hebrew school and camp for adolescents, which both cost a lot of money, and…well, basically nothing relevant for young-adult Jews, what is it exactly we want them to be doing?

    Exactly. And that total lack of programming and opportunity to participate as youth beyond paid educational programs in our shuls is how we lost our youth in the first place. And why didn’t we bother to build that missing infrastructure?

    Because so many adult RJ members are twice-a-year Jews, themselves. Maybe we should be taking those parents out for ice cream.

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