The discussion began about two years ago. The Bureau of Jewish Education, best known for TALIT Nation, the largest Jewish teen community in Orange County, made a programmatic choice. The Bureau had always had programming for 3rd to 8th graders. Programs like the Community Shabbaton and Mitzvah Mania have been bringing Jewish identity programming to Jewish youth for years. In conversation with community partners, it was determined that we were not providing enough to meet the demand of this age group. So after two years of collaboration with the all of the synagogues of Orange County, and with Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School, a game plan to engage more youth emerged. The result was the sharpest rise in participation of any Bureau in North America.
The first step of the plan was to offer community-wide youth group events for this age group. Borrowing from the highly successful TALIT Nation Jewbilation program, the Bureau ran a Junior Jewbilation event for 6th through 8th graders on Saturday night, February 5, at Temple Beth Sholom. Junior Jewbilation was brought to life by nearly two hundred participants from fifteen synagogues and community agencies who spent the evening dancing, bounce-housing and noshing together.
The Bureau’s Mitzvah Mania program was held on Sunday, February 27, on the campus of Tarbut v’Torah. This annual event, which has served over 1,200 B’nai Mitzvah students in the last ten years, was filled to the brim, providing participants and their parents an opportunity to learn about social action projects available in our community, so that they can create their own projects in anticipation of their upcoming B’Nai Mitzvah celebrations.
The Bureau’s Community Shabbaton for 3rd through 8th graders was held on March 4 to 6 and was the largest single retreat in the history of the Bureau. With nearly 300 participants, as well as professional and volunteer leadership from synagogues and TVT, every bed was filled in two adjacent camps. The group spent this most memorable weekend together celebrating Shabbat, making friends and having fun.
The goal two years ago was simple: engage more 3rd through 8th graders in our community and foster their love for being Jewish. The methodology: bring together many Jewish agencies and synagogues to develop large community events that cultivate Jewish pride and belonging to a community. The results? An increase of more than 36 percent in community participation, from 328 children served to 447.
I believe the fruit of our common efforts has only just begun. Next year, we will be adding a second Junior Jewbilation program. If you are a Jewish youth in Orange County, please know that the entire community is working together to make your Jewish experiences transformative. The best is yet to come!
Isn’t it great when a plan comes together?!