In our journey to Jewish adulthood, we learned that our B’nai Mitzvah is not the end of our journey, but it is the gateway to a new beginning. Lately, many synagogues have been struggling to keep their students from dropping out after their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Rather than focusing on the reasons why students have been leaving, I have decided to describe the amazing programs offered to Jewish teenagers in Orange County who have decided to continue on with their Jewish education.
Shir Ha-Ma’alot, along with many other local synagogues, partners with the Orange County Bureau of Jewish Education. The eighth grade students at Shir Ha-Ma’alot participate in the Adat Noar program, which brings together Jewish teenagers, from many different congregations, for weekend Shabbaton retreats, community service projects and exciting dances.
“The Adat Noar program has helped me discover things I didn’t know about myself, and it has allowed me to develop lifelong friendships,” said Nicky Sandoz.
Also, Shir Ha-Ma’alot members in grades 8 to 12 have the opportunity to join the Madrichim program. This program allows students to become a teacher’s assistant in a religious school class. The Madrichim program helps students to learn to interact with others while building their knowledge of their religion.
Devon Cohen, member of Shir Ha-Ma’alot and first grade teacher’s assistant in the Madrichim program, commented, “I have learned that my Jewish identity comes from my home. The eighth grade program at my temple has given me the chance to spend time with my other Jewish friends that I don’t get to see at school.”
At Temple Bat Yahm, the eighth graders participate in the Adat Noar program as well. Their small, but enthusiastic group of students also meets monthly on Sundays, for in-class discussions, with different congregational leaders from their temple. The small class size offers the students the perfect learning environment to discover their Jewish identity. This also allows students to develop closer bonds with their classmates, setting them in the right direction, on the path to Jewish adulthood.
“The program at Temple Bat Yahm has taught me to be a better person, while providing me with extended knowledge, and a deeper understanding of my religion,” explained Haley Cohen.
Temple Bat Yahm teens, like those at Shir Ha-Ma’alot, also participate in Shabbaton weekends and community service projects to make up a well-rounded Jewish experience. Many eighth graders at Temple Bat Yahm also help as teacher’s assistants in the diverse religious school JCAL programs like drama, technology and social action.
University Synagogue also offers the Madrichim program, which allows post-B’nai Mitzvah students to become junior teachers. “I think that the Madrichim program has helped me learn how to deal with a large variety of people, with different personalities. I believe that this experience will help me to work well with adults and children in the future,” said Alison Hurwitz, member of University Synagogue. The Madrichim program teaches students to become leaders and great role models for the younger kids. “The Madrichim program has taught me responsibility and leadership. The feeling of having little kids look up to me is an amazing feeling, because I have the ability to guide them on the right path. I honestly think this program at my temple is run so well, and I have gained knowledge that I will carry on for the rest of my life,” said Alexis Haft. “I think being in a temple where everyone accepts each other for who they are has had a huge impact on my life. Learning how to connect with others despite our differences has shown me that it is okay to be different. Being in a community where everyone is so kind, respectful and loyal has been the greatest experience of my life.”
The programs offered to post-B’nai Mitzvah students at these synagogues, and more throughout Orange County, have not only given these teenagers a year full of exciting experiences, but they have given them valuable knowledge, and opportunities to grow as Jewish adults. These students have learned important social skills, along with strong Jewish morals and values that will benefit them throughout their lives.
Hannah Schoenbaum is a freshman at Corona Del Mar High School.
36 Years of Learning
Next year will be a historic one for the Bureau of Jewish Education, which will be celebrating its 36th anniversary. In these 36 years the Bureau has impacted tens of thousands of children, teens and their families by instilling lifelong connections to Judaism. The Bureau invites the Orange County Jewish community to join the celebration of this meaningful milestone all year long.
On Sunday, August 25 the Bureau will host its second annual Sunday with a Scholar event. Last year’s event brought members of the community together to enjoy exceptional Jewish entertainment in beautiful coastal homes with gourmet refreshments in the company of the most significant supporters of the Orange County Jewish community. This year’s Sunday with a Scholar event, “Groucho,” will be particularly meaningful, in that the Bureau will recognize longtime Dinner with a Scholar chairperson Aviva Forster for her many years of service to the Bureau.
For more information, contact
Heather Zemmol at the Bureau at
email@example.com or (949) 435-3450.