So, what would you say is the biggest challenge facing the Jewish community today? Anti-Semitism? Threats to Israel’s security? The economy and lack of resources? How about the sky-high number of Jews who disappear from Jewish life after they become a bar/bat mitzvah or their children become a bar/bat mitzvah?
This is one of our greatest challenges and a primary reason the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) launched its “Campaign for Youth Engagement.” I am proud to say that before the new President of the URJ, Rabbi Rick Jacobs announced this campaign as his first major initiative, Temple Sinai launched its own campaign for youth engagement. We applied for and became one of eight congregations to be part of a Reform Movement pilot project to involve young people in what is now referred to as “teen philanthropy.” Jonah Zinn, our rabbinic intern, and I designed a unique teen philanthropy program specifically for our most “endangered” group of young people here at Temple Sinai, our 8th graders.
I say “endangered” because after a year of intensive Jewish learning in preparation to lead Shabbat services as bar/bat mitzvah, 8th graders are the most in danger of becoming disengaged from Jewish life. Our High School program at Temple Sinai is excellent and many 8th graders attend those Monday night sessions during the school year. In fact, tonight we are celebrating the graduation from our high school program of eight students who have participated all the way through their senior year! Be that as it may, we know that there are many students who do not continue in our high school program after bar/bat mitzvah and others who do but can benefit from a different kind of Jewish engagement.
Our new program for 8th graders is called, “Teen Foundation.” Neither a class nor a youth group program, the Teen Foundation combines the passion young people naturally have for making a difference in the world (Tikkun Olam/social justice) with their desire to socialize with peers, and an age-appropriate informal Jewish educational component to create a year of fun, provocative and Jewishly inspiring activity. Meeting twice a month from 5:00 – 6:15 p.m. on Sunday, the ten students in this year’s Teen Foundation spent the year learning about local non-profit organizations and the importance of philanthropy through site visits to local organizations, hands-on service and group discussions. After learning about the issues facing our community, the teens selected a need they wanted to address and solicited grant proposals from organizations which work on their issues of their choice. They then reviewed the grant proposals and awarded grants both from a philanthropic pool comprised of personal contribution from the teens and additional money they raised together through a fundraising event.
The fundraising event they put together, “Party 2Fight Poverty,” raised over $2,600. Combining that money with their family’s contributions, the teens made grants of $1,500 each to three different local organizations which address poverty among children. These teens truly made a difference!
If you have a child who will be in 8th grade next year, I urge you to encourage him or her to be a member of our Teen Foundation. Email me at email@example.com to let me know your son/daughter is interested.
We will meet primarily on Sundays from 5:00 – 6:15 p.m. about twice a month starting in October, after the High Holy Days. In lieu of a registration fee each student is asked to contribute $250 to the Teen Foundation philanthropic pool (i.e. a “tzedakah collective”). Teens who may need assistance with the financial commitment please speak with me. Special funds are available for this program; no one will be excluded because of an inability to make this contribution. If you find this program as inspiring as I do and want to make a contribution to help us provide these funds, please send your check made out to Temple Sinai with the words “Teen Foundation Contribution” in the memo line.
There are a limited number of spaces in this year’s Foundation class, which will be filled in order of when registrations are received. We will send you a registration form shortly after you contact us. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or Jonah Zinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.