It seems that the happiest people I meet are the ones who have a broad perspective on life. Frequently, they have strong convictions, yet are very interested in hearing about the passions of others. And most often, conversation reveals they have had a well-rounded education – one that certainly included reading, writing, math, and science, but also studies in music, history, foreign language, literature, theater, world culture, and the visual arts.
Satisfaction with life also seems to come easiest for those who have had a wide variety of personal experiences, the chance to expand their formal education through travel, work, social activities, and group adventures. They have an appreciation for diversity. Happiness and wealth in their lives come not merely from reaching their goals, rather from the richness of their journeys.
Why then, wouldn’t the same hold true for building the Jewish parts of our lives? It seems logical, and research has confirmed, that a well-rounded Jewish youth education nourishes an enduring and fulfilling adult Jewish identity.
In our community, it takes a partnership between Jewish institutions to supply the various pieces of this well-rounded Jewish education. The kids with the broadest learning experiences are often getting components of their education from multiple sources.
Synagogues and day schools in our region are known for their excellent religious and Hebrew schools, providing the foundation of Jewish history, language, text, and culture so essential to helping our kids appreciate their roots. Denominational emphasis, time commitment, and intensity of the studies vary widely by school, and so we are blessed with a great number of choices available for students.
In addition to the formal education provided by these schools, the recipe for a well-rounded Jewish education includes three informal ingredients that nourish strong Jewish identities – youth groups, Jewish camp experiences, and a trip to Israel.
For teens, participation in a Jewish youth group feeds their overwhelming need for social interaction and does so in the context of Jewish celebrations. Youth groups bring “Jewish fun” into the educational mix, making tangible the notion that happiness in life and Judaism can be thoroughly intertwined.
Jewish camp experiences provide a retreat from the structure of everyday life. Students get to temporarily step out of their parents’ homes into a setting where they have the freedom to explore. Yet their Jewish essence comes with them, teaching that Judaism is a part of their core identities, no matter where life takes them.
The Bureau of Jewish Education brings these elements into the educational partnership during the school year. TALIT Nation @ the Bureau provides the structure for more than 250 high school students to learn through weekend Shabbaton retreats, Social Action Sundays, and Jewbilation youth group gatherings. Everything is structured to reinforce core Jewish values and build self-awareness. The resulting teen community is multi-congregational, multi-denominational, pluralistic, and year-long – more inclusive and diverse a Jewish youth group than can be provided by any single Jewish school or movement, and with a year-to-year continuity.
A trip to Israel cannot be emphasized enough as an essential piece of the well-rounded Jewish education. The Bureau contributes this component into the partnership with its TIES teen summer Israel trip, a four-week living and learning excursion through the history and geography they have heard so much about. TIES is now more affordable than ever through scholarship opportunities offered by Jewish Federation and Family Services of Orange County and by Jewish Federation of Greater Long Beach & West Orange County.
It takes a partnership to educate the next generation. There’s no one institution in our region that can provide all these quality elements of a Jewish education alone. Yet our community is rich, because we can provide all this amazing formal and informal learning through a coalition of our synagogues, schools, and agencies, helping parents nurture confident Jewish teens who become well-rounded, happy Jewish adults.