By Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, RJE
URJ Director, Teen Engagement
NFTY has always been the centerpiece of teen life in the Reform Movement. As I write, NFTY staff are preparing for nearly 700 teens to arrive in Dallas for the biennial NFTY Convention and Youth Workers Conference. These events promise to be dynamic and moving experiences for all participants.
We want even more teens to share in these experiences. The Union is committed to increasing resources for NFTY and offering greater support to congregations to help them build and strengthen their temple youth groups and programs. We hope to see more teens reaping the benefits of the friendship and the learning from NFTY, exploring their own Jewish connection and involvement, making an impact on the world through their leadership and action, and creating a larger, stronger voice on the issues they care about as Reform Jewish teens.
Teen engagement is one of the Union for Reform Judaism’s highest priorities. This fall, the Union and partners throughout the Reform Movement launched the Campaign for Teen Engagement. Working in partnership with the Commission on Lifelong Learning, Just Congregations, NFTY, the URJ Camp & Israel Programs system, the CCAR, WRJ, HUC-JIR and other Movement affiliates, the goal is to improve the ability of Reform institutions to involve young people in meaningful Jewish life and strengthen post-b’nai mitzvah retention and engagement in synagogues, day schools, camps, and youth programs throughout North America.
The Campaign for Teen Engagement is about changing the way we keep teens involved. No longer do we want families to view bar/bat mitzvah as an end point to a teen’s active participation in Jewish life. Rather they should view it as a launching pad for teens to become active Jewish adults. The time after b’nai mitzvah is about making conscious decisions about how one wants to shape his/her Jewish life and frame his/her ongoing Jewish learning and development. We need to work together as a Movement to make this the tenor of our conversation.
The Campaign for Teen Engagement is about listening. We are encouraging congregations to talk to, listen to and learn from the teens in their communities about what ongoing engagement means to them. Why is Judaism important to you? How do you want to learn and grow as a Jewish teen? What kinds of friendships would you like to form? How can we help you make that happen in your own life? Only through dialogue on this level will we move forward in our efforts to meet teens where they are.
The Campaign for Teen Engagement is about taking action and trying new things. We want congregations to think about ways to create new opportunities and avenues of engagement. We want congregations to consider how their youth program can look and do things differently.
To learn more about the Campaign for Teen Engagement go to www.urj.org/teen. If you want to get your congregation involved, talk with your clergy, educator or temple president about how they’d like to partner with you in getting more teens involved in Jewish life. How could they refuse?!
If you have specific questions or ideas you would like to share, I want to hear them! Please be in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s get the conversation started. Tell us about what your congregation is doing for teens.
Teens, what keeps you involved? How can congregations reach you and your friends more effectively?
Your ideas will help us all.