For more than 35 years, the Bureau of Jewish Education has aimed to cultivate Jewish pride, participation and leadership in Southern California teens. Our goal is to help Jewish kids to love being Jewish and to facilitate the development of their Jewish identities. To fulfill this mission, we offer camp retreats, Israel trips, social action days and youth group-style events. These types of programs, often called ‘experiential’ Jewish education, have proven to best fortify a sense of “Jewishness.”
There have always been those who criticize experiential Jewish education. Some people say that these programs are not “real” education. “They are simply programs where the goal is just to have fun.” The critique continues something like, “There are no classrooms, no teachers, no lectures, no curriculum…they are just social programs. They are just fluff.” Behind such assumptions is a judgment that these experiences are less valuable than traditional learning experiences. Perhaps the greatest challenge is that these judgments also assume that these two types of education, teaching for knowledge acquisition (what learners know) and enculturation (what learners feel), are mutually exclusive. The truth is simple: both, when offered thoughtfully, in a balanced diet, provide the optimum formula to nurture a love for Judaism.
We need only look to current levels of participation of Jews in the Jewish community. Southern California has the lowest affiliation rates in the country, with about one of every five Jews participating in any Jewish institution in our community. If we want our kids to be members of their Jewish communities in the next generation, in college and beyond, and to have Jewish friends, they need to have positive Jewish experiences throughout their middle and high school years. Research shows that for the vast majority of Jews, if they do not find a “Jew Crew” (a popular term used by teens in our programs) with whom to connect during their prime years of identity development, it is less likely that they will prioritize a connection to Judaism and a Jewish community later.
Experiential education is perceived as both fun and enjoyable. Professor Barry Chazan, founder of the Jewish experiential education movement, has written, “Calling experiential education ‘fun’ is significant, because this says that these are the kinds of Jewish experiences and education which can engage and ignite people. We should not be afraid or skeptical of things that are fun – we should jump at the educational opportunity they present.”
With this in mind, the Bureau of Jewish Education will begin its 5772 Jewbilation and Jr. Jewbilation programs this December. They run through the spring. They are a series of Saturday night social events for Jewish kids to come together, end Shabbat with Havdallah and have fun in a distinctively Jewish environment with a community they love. These evenings are offered to the entire community in partnership with local synagogues, as well as with Tarbut V’Torah, through the Jewish Federation & Family Services and community supporters.
What is the educational opportunity these programs present? Chazan stated, “As (Erik) Erikson and others have taught us, identity is in part a sense of positive feelings about a group or a frame of reference; and positive feelings about a Jewish experience play an important role in the development of Jewish identity.” Your participating teenagers will have a great time, meet new friends and come back telling you they had fun. When they do, you will know what “fun” rally means. It means your children are deepening a love for being with other Jews. If you provide them enough evenings like these, they have the capacity to translate them into a Jewish identity that will last a lifetime.
For more information
about the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Jewbilation program, please contact Eric Nicastro at (949) 435-3450 x328,
Mark your calendars now!
Open to all 9-12 graders
Saturday, December 3:
Chanukah Hoedown @ UCI Campus – Recreation Center
Saturday, March 17:
Purim Masquerade Ball @
Temple Beth Sholom, Santa Ana
Open to all 6-8 graders
Saturday, December 10:
Chanukah ‘Nite of Craze’ @
Cong Shir Ha-Ma’alot, Irvine
Saturday, February 11:
Improv Comedy Sportz @
Cong B’Nai Israel, Tustin