During the month of Elul, Jews are asked to do some very difficult work. Our tradition asks us to examine our lives and address foundational Jewish questions such as, “What are areas in our lives that need to be improved?” and “What are the steps we must take to make the transformations happen?” We are asked to literally look at the year ahead of us and make choices about who we are and who we will become. Judaism teaches us that during our annual self-examination, it is the decisions we make that reflect our priorities.
As a fellow at the Institute for Informal Jewish Education at Brandeis University a number of years ago, I had the honor of learning with senior professionals from Jewish summer camps, youth groups, Israel travel and service-learning settings. As a group, we knew that the “products” we were serving were succeeding in helping Jewish teens and youth love being Jewish…and we saw that a primary common denominator within the group was the regularity with which the teens chose to participate. Dr. Barry Chazan, a seminal figure in Jewish experiential education first articulated the concept of “volunteeristic participation.” When teens choose their activities, they engage more in them, make deeper commitments and get more out of the experiences than when they participate because they are told that they “have to.” Though this concept probably comes as no surprise to parents of teens, it was Chazan who expressly associated the language of choice with it.
In the life of today’s teenagers – filled with countless activities, responsibilities, SAT prep, AP’s, not to mention schoolwork – making choices is difficult. In my years of working with teens, I find that more and more of them, overwhelmed by their schedules, find it difficult to put their Jewish friends and community on their calendar, putting what they “have” to do before what they “want” to do. In addition, the activities they choose often insist upon their full participation and commitment, with anything less meaning that they cannot participate at all. This demand often pushes their Jewish engagement even more onto the fringes of their calendars.
This year, TALIT Nation @ the Bureau, Orange County’s largest educational provider serving nearly 900 teens and youth annually, has made a significant change in the program structure in order to empower more teens to make the choice of “doing” Jewish this coming year. Beginning this year, 10th to 12th graders have the option of one, two and three retreat packages, as opposed to past years, in which the registration was for all three retreats together only. If you know that your teens have a school play or AP’s or a sport that conflicts with one of the retreat dates, that is no longer a hurdle for participating in our community. Simply choose the retreats that work for them. Everyone is welcome, with or without a 100-percent participation level. In addition, we now offer packages of Jewbilation (series of Saturday night teen socials) events and Social Action Sundays, independent from retreats.
I would personally like to invite all families of 9th to 12th grade teens to come to TALIT Nation @ the Bureau opening day, program fair and BBQ on Sunday, September 11, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Tarbut V’Torah Upper School campus. Information booths for every one of our programs will lay out the menu of choices and sizes for you to find what works for you and, more importantly, for your teen during this coming year. For questions and more information about TALIT Nation @ the Bureau teen camp retreats, Israel programs, social action and Saturday night social programs, please contact Eric Nicastro at the Bureau office (949/435-3450 or firstname.lastname@example.org) or explore our program guide at www.bjeoc.org.