Almost weekly, I am in meetings with Jewish parents concerned about their children’s Jewish identity. They often share stories of all they are doing to instill a connection to Judaism in their kids; and no matter how hard they push, the opposite seems to happen. They ask what they should do, what is the “special sauce” that will get their kids to be prideful and participating Jews now and throughout their lives.
Though no magic solution exists, Jewish education has learned much in the last decade about how an individual grows a Jewish identity. No research in the educational world has had greater impact on this question than the Study on Adolescent Development from the Carnegie Research Institute.
The Institute was able to identify the major influence on establishing identity. The greatest factor, by leaps and bounds, was between the ages of ten to fourteen, exposure to three positive adult role models who are not their parents. This research, identifying the key ages of religious identity formation and the power of role models during this period, is reshaping Jewish education in all forms as donors seek the greatest yield for their support, and parents look for that “special sauce” that will have the greatest transformational power for their children.
The Bureau of Jewish Education will host a Community Shabbaton the weekend of March 4 to 6 at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley. Every year, 300 3rd to 8th graders from Long Beach to Pomona to Aliso Viejo have a weekend filled with fun and friendships. What is the value of this weekend to your child? If you ask any of the thousands of kids who have gone before, they will tell you about the new and old friends they connect with, the fun camp activities and the cool counselors.
From the perspective of the Bureau of Jewish Education and parents, the benefit is much greater. The Bureau not only hires 50 college counselors and 30 high school juniors and seniors to be with your children on the weekend, but hires the right counselors. These counselors are chosen because they are active in Hillel, spend summers working in Jewish camps and youth groups or serve as teaching assistants at religious schools. They love being Jewish, and this passion oozes out of every word and smile they bring to participants on the retreat. They are trained to be positive role models, fostering friendships amongst the campers and a fun connection to Judaism.
Last week, I received a letter from Tammy Cooper, who sent her daughter Brittany on the Community Shabbaton last year. She writes the following, “My daughter met A LOT of friends last year at the Shabbaton. She had her Bat Mitzvah this past summer and invited all her ‘new’ friends. In addition, she keeps getting invited to B’nai Mitzvot all over the county. She keeps in regular contact with them through Facebook and is counting the days until she sees them again this coming March.”
The Community Shabbaton is more than a weekend of fun; it helps many children develop a love for being a “member of the tribe.”
More information and registration for the Community Shabbatonim and all other Bureau programs are available online at www.bjeoc.org or through the Bureau at (949) 435-3450.