The High Holidays are Coming: Don’t Arrive with Empty Pockets!

by Ira Miller

As adults who work with the youth of our congregations, we often dream about that incredible event when we open the doors and kids start flooding in. We look up and it seems as if every child on the temple’s roster has shown up – all at the same time, in the same place. And although we may think such an event is just a far-off dream, in reality, it is coming to every single congregation across our Movement – and beyond.

We don’t often think about it as an event or program, but absolutely nothing a congregation does brings in more people at one time than the High Holidays. If we are serious about engaging the youth of our congregations, this is our opportunity, and we must not let it pass us by.

As you prepare for this High Holiday season, think about the services and all that goes along with them as a program designed exclusively for you and the youth of your congregation. How might you approach Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur differently if instead of a worship service, each was a youth group program that we planned? How do we greet our kids? How do we connect them to each other? How do we make sure they come back? We need to be as prepared for the High Holidays as we are for any major youth event.

journal-badgeNo youth engagement worker should arrive at a High Holiday service with empty pockets. If all we do is say “l’shanah tovah” and shake a lot of hands, we are not taking full advantage of this incredible opportunity. Most years my suit pockets are stuffed full of ¼ sheet flyers that have information about our first events of the year, along with my contact information, web site addresses, and how to “follow” our youth group on Twitter and Instagram. Every hand-shake and New Year’s greeting is accompanied by the quick transfer of this information. I give them to the kids, to their parents and even to grandparents.

More recently, I’ve started printing professional-looking cards that have pictures of the active kids in the group on one side and group information on the other side. These cards are very inexpensive to create – check out,, or other printing websites. I’ve also printed cards for my board members (which they love, it makes them feel so important!) for them to give out to their friends who are not already involved. These cards invite their friends to an event and give the board member “credit” for recruiting them. It allows the board member to put their phone number on the card to offer a ride/carpool if they need it.

In addition to having materials to give out, knowing where to be and when to be there also is important. During services, sit near the doors of the sanctuary so you can see everyone as they walk in and out. Do a lot of kids leave the sanctuary during the rabbi’s sermon? What a great opportunity to chat with them. If your congregation offers more than one service, make sure to hang out in-between services to chat with families as they arrive and depart.

The beauty of the Jewish calendar is that it brings all our families and their children through our doors at the beginning of the programming year. We couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to have some face time with our community. It is up to each of us to make the most of that time and to use it as a springboard into a great 5774!

L’shanah tovah! Oh, and while I’ve got you, can I tell you about our next event?!

Ira Miller is the Director of Informal Education at Washington Hebrew Congregation, Washington, DC.

The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

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