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We Need Community & Connection
by Rachel Blume

After my bat mitzvah I felt disconnected from and uninterested in Judaism. Once I’d completed the “task,” I felt I’d “finished” my process as a Jew and there was no point to learning more.

My earliest Jewish learning experiences—in Jewish preschool—were really enjoyable, but going to Hebrew school twice a week for two hours each day was another story altogether. I was giving up my time to be with often mean teachers who taught us from a boring curriculum. To deal with this I focused on the “goal”—the bat mitzvah. Whenever a new year of Hebrew school started, I’d say, “Only ___ year(s) till I’m done.”

Both of my parents supported my decision to drop out of Hebrew school after my bat mitzvah. After two years, though, my mom pushed me to go back and try it again. She told me that over the years she came to value the Jewish community and its heritage—and wanted me to have the same feeling. Deciding that I shouldn’t write off Judaism forever just because of some bad experiences when I was younger, I said, “Okay.”

Surprisingly, my current temple youth program is very enjoyable. We discuss issues that teens deal with on a regular basis, such as peer pressure, people with disabilities, and the environment, and how Jewish values tie in. For people with disabilities, for example, the Torah says that everyone is created in God’s image and therefore should be treated equally. Each of us also discusses the topic of the week with two older students, and I really like hearing their perspectives. The youth leader is kind, understanding, and closer to my age, which makes it easier for me to relate to her. She also comes up with interesting questions that really make me think. It feels good to be a part of a group that’s brought together around a common belief in Judaism. There is also a positive vibe in our group of about 30 because we want to be here, as opposed to the kids in my pre-bat mitzvah class, who felt forced to attend.

Through being in the group, I have realized how Jewish values can help me deal with the issues I face in my everyday life. For example, keeping in mind the idea that “everyone is created in God’s image” helps me to look for the good in some people instead of seeing only their bad qualities. Thinking this way also makes me want to learn more, so I am considering being confirmed next year as a 10th grader. And I know that when I have children someday, I will want to raise them with Jewish values.

It is important for Jewish leaders to remember how stressful the lives of teens can be. Being Jewish shouldn’t feel like another “obligation,” but a feeling of connection with others. To create community around common interests, it would be helpful to have a peer group with whom students can discuss how they feel about such things as the process of becoming a bar/bat mitzvah. And I think Judaism is best taught through action, not just words—for example, doing charity work or visiting the disabled.

Rachel Blume, soon to be a tenth grader at Edgemont Jr/Sr High School, is a member of Scarsdale Synagogue Temples Tremont and Emanu-El in Scarsdale, New York.

What have your Jewish experiences been like? What gets you inspired and what turns you off? Do you agree with these teens' ideas about youth engagement-why/why not? What do adults need to know about how to engage young people in Jewish life?


Union for Reform Judaism.