HomeNovember 2013About the Kids

About the Kids

For many Jewish teens, the culmination of their involvement in Judaism comes at the age of 12 or 13 when they read their Torah portion and celebrate at their Bar or Bat Mitzvah party.  While some teens will go on to complete Confirmation classes and may be involved with a Jewish youth group, many will cease to be engaged with Jewish life at all.
As teens’ needs and interests evolve during the high school years, programming that is designed to be responsive to these changes, or that targets a more highly focused subset of the teenage population, is more likely to be successful than programming that offers a one-size-fits-all approach.
The results of current research make it clear that programs designed to increase teen participation in Jewish life have to stimulate interest among those who may not place the Jewish community as the highest priority in their young lives.
However, meaningful and successful programs for Jewish teens keep them active in the community and show them how Judaism can make their lives meaningful at any age.  This is key in cementing lifetime values and behavioral patterns.
Across the Orange County Jewish community, synagogues are responding to this need by developing or enhancing their teen programs.
Beth Jacob of Irvine will be opening its very own Jr. NCSY chapter!  NCSY is a world-recognized organization that has played a pivotal role in the lives of Jewish teens across the globe.  Founded by the Orthodox Union in 1954, NCSY seeks to provide Jewish teens with an opportunity to build a strong connection to their Jewish roots through inspiration and leadership skills.
NCSY’s mission is to connect with Jewish teens through innovative, cutting-edge social and recreational programs to develop a positive Jewish identity.  NCSY Inspires Jewish teens through informal Jewish education, retreats and summer programs.  The program empowers teens through leadership development and guidance to help them become passionately committed leaders of the Jewish community and instruments for positive change and renewal.
Because NCSY has seen the explosive growth of Irvine and Orange County Jewish communities, and has been impressed with the participation and leadership of BJI teens, it has recognized how important it is to invest in building NCSY at BJI.  To accomplish this, NCSY and BJI have created a partnership, in which NCSY will place a full-time NCSY Director, Rabbi Mike Donovan, in our community.
Donovan came to Irvine following his successful work as the director of NCSY in San Francisco for the last three years, building a home for the teens of San Francisco. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, it was his time living in Jerusalem, combined with his own childhood experiences, that prompted him to pursue full-time study and to commit to a profession with youth.  Donovan studied at Mir Yeshivah in Jerusalem and at the Jerusalem Kollel, where he received his ordination.
“I am really excited to meet and create fun programs for teens and children from ages K-12 at BJI,” said Donovan.  “There are so many Jewish youth all over Orange County that have yet to realize how fun it can be when you have a group of friends that make you feel safe and appreciated.  That is what we want to create here — a fun, happy, Jewish, and cool place for our youth.”
Rachel Schiff at Temple Beth Emet heads the Tamid program that is a combination youth program and religious school for junior and senior high school students ages 12-18.  The program is a transformation from previous religious school models that Temple Beth Emet has had in the past.  Schiff is a tenured public school teacher, was a president of Hillel, has worked with JFFS and is an active member of YLD.
The program started in October of 2013, and it is still welcoming teens who have an interest in expanding their knowledge of Jewish culture and religion and want to be involved with a Jewish peer group.  Tamid meets every Wednesday and every other Saturday.  Currently the group is planning a Chanukah party and is working towards having the teens participate in countywide shabbatons.
“Tamid is an important part of a Jewish teen’s identity,” said Schiff.  “It helps formulate Jewish ideas, traditions, friendships and cultural bonds prior to the college experience.  This foundation is intended to guide teens into Jewish groups in college and encourage them to be active participants in the Jewish global community.  Developing long-lasting connections to their youth provides teens with a greater chance of being Jewish leaders of tomorrow.”
The Tamid program is expected to grow and develop.  Best of all, it’s structured so all families can afford it.
At Temple Beth El, a pretty spectacular event took place in September between the Men’s Club and the BESTY Teen Community.  Last year, the Men’s Club partnered with BESTY to raise money to renovate the youth lounge.  As a “thank you,” the teens wanted to put on an event that would also involve the Men’s Club.  And so the event called “Basketball, BBQ and Ballet” was planned.  The event featured great food, icebreakers and best of all, men playing basketball – most of them in tutus, which had been made by the teens.
BESTY is Temple Beth El’s Senior Youth Group that seeks to provide teens with plenty of opportunities for fun, learning and personal growth.  There are regular monthly meetings in addition to several special events – planned and executed by BESTY members – throughout the year.
“It was wonderful seeing the groups working together,” said Sammy Seid, leader of the BESTY program at TBE.  “This was a meaningful coming together of two of the auxiliary organizations, which helps to deepen our sense of community.  While each group runs its own events, this was one of the places were two of those groups could come together and cut across generations.”
While nothing is on the calendar for BESTY and the men’s club specifically, the youth group will continue to take ownership of other pieces in the community.  At the very large community-wide annual interfaith Thanksgiving Service with Shepherd of the Hill Church and the Mosque of Orange County, the youth group will be helping to lead the social action piece.
As our Jewish community expands, synagogues are developing more unique and innovative programming to engage young people and keep them connected to their Jewish heritage.  They are, after all, our future!


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