There are a lot of ways teenagers in our congregation can stay connected to the Jewish community following a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Students can serve as Madrichim (teaching assistants) in our Religious and Hebrew schools. In 10th grade, many go on to participate in Confirmation which I have the pleasure of teaching.
For students in grades 8-12, there is Tri-Valley Tri-City Midrasha. In addition, there is our local Mar-Win chapter of BBYO. Throughout the greater Bay Area there are specialized programs like the Jewish Teen Foundation sponsored by the Jewish Federation; the URJ’s Camp Newman; and the opportunity to take part in sports competitions like the JCC’s Maccabi Games.
There is no question that there are multiple ways teenagers can participate in programs that connect, educate, and broaden their Jewish horizons. But how many of our TBT students are doing so post-B. Mitzvah? The answer is mixed. On the one hand, a remarkable number of students become Madrichim. It is really a joy to see them on Sunday mornings and Tuesday afternoons interacting with youngsters, helping our teachers, and assisting students who benefit from one-to-one attention.
When it comes to Midrasha, the number of students from TBT who are enrolled has been steadily decreasing. This past year we had a total of eleven students from Temple in the program.
As for Mar-Win, I cannot say that the chapter has been robust of late. It is not long ago that I recall regular meetings taking place at Temple and our teenagers actively planning and leading local programs but that no longer seems to be the case.
When it comes to teenagers participating in Jewish summer programs like Newman, Tawonga, and other sleep-away camps, it seems like the number has remained constant. However, with the demise of Camp Kadima, lamentably, there is no longer an opportunity for our kids to serve as camp counselors.
So when it comes to our Jewish teenagers connecting with organized programs after a B. Mitzvah are things getting better or worse? I would say it’s too simplistic to answer this question as yay or nay. But I am very pleased to know that I am not the only one asking this question. In fact, there are lots of people all around the East Bay who are also examining Jewish life for our teenagers.
On a local level, the leadership of Midrasha has embarked on a process by which they will be looking at the Midrasha enterprise – its successes and shortcomings – during a year long process of self-examination. On a regional basis, the East Bay Jewish Federation has convened a Teen Planning Table which will facilitate “a communal process of assessing the strengths and challenges of East Bay offerings for Jewish teens; consider how the myriad opportunities available to Jewish youth fit together in the tapestry of our community; and articulate measurable communal goals for East Bay programs for Jewish teens.”
I look forward to our congregation participating in this process of reflection by TVTC Midrasha and the Teen Planning Table. The ultimate outcome should be for us to offer the richest and most engaging programs possible for our teenagers. They deserve the very best that our congregation and community have to offer.