How do teenagers fit Judaism into their after-school activities? Spoiler: Many don’t.

This article was produced as part of the JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship. This is a program that works with her teens around the world to report on issues that affect their lives.

(JTA) — Youth group leader Evan Shulia was excited to take on a leadership role when he first started organizing events for his peers at Temple Col Tikwer in Woodland Hills, California. Two years later, with few lads showing up after his mitzvah, B’nai struggles to keep his work sparking.

“I had to watch it grow and see 20 to 30 people attend the event, most of them in high school and eighth grade, but now it wasn’t exactly the same.” said 17-year-old Shrier. “We still try to put on really fun events, but he doesn’t feel very rewarding when he’s alone, outside of the board.”

Schrier experiences what many religious leaders witness year after year. That is the decline in synagogue attendance after the b’nei mitzvah. As teens get older, some struggle to make time for religious activities as they focus on sports and extracurricular activities to build their college resume.

“When I apply to college to join the kinesiology and track and field teams, they will look at my sports medicine and running teams,” says Shrier. “They won’t look at Kol Tikvah as much. He’s still making time for Kol Tikvah, but says he needs to prioritize activities worthy of a college scholarship.

Commissioned 2016 Report According to a study by the San Francisco-based Jim Joseph Foundation, Jewish teens feel confused about how to balance their secular and non-secular activities, with the former We often choose to give priority to

Most of those surveyed said they did not view Jewish activities as chosen free time. Instead, they see them as a meaningful third category between school duties and fun pastimes. Students aged 12 1/2 to her 17 said having Jewish friends influenced their involvement in Jewish activities.

The report also found that encouraging teenagers’ “cognitive skills” was a key factor in their involvement in Jewish activism. “They look at the world around them to build identities and develop values,” former BBYO Chief His Program Officer Rabbi David Kessel said in the report. “And if we can help them do so in a sophisticated and engaging way by offering these content-rich experiences, they will come and resonate with it.”

Many organizations are working hard to deliver this kind of “content-rich experience.” For example, BBYO provides her teens with leadership training, community service, and Jewish education.Reform Judaism Fund Religious Activities Center L’Taken Social Justice Program for High School Students NationwideNow, learn how to reach out to Senators and Representatives in Washington, DC. Another organization, Moving Traditions, teaches the importance of personal well-being, justice and caring relationships through a Jewish lens. The emphasis on leadership and tikkun olam (social justice) in these organizations is meaningful and[non-]It’s boring Jewish content,” Kessel said.

A 2016 study by Kessel and Jim Joseph also suggests that teens are more likely to engage in Jewish activities that are compelling and add value to their lives. Mr Shrier said: I am very happy to be able to do many things now that I couldn’t have done if I hadn’t been connected to the temple. ”

But teenagers are engaged in rich, secular activities that compete with Jewish extracurricular activities, grappling with the question of how to spend their limited time.

16-year-old Ava Naiditch from Los Angeles lists soccer as her most important extracurricular activity. As a Reform Jew, she resonates with the culture of temple youth groups and wants to remain involved in activities such as confirmation, but has a lifelong commitment to her sport. He says he can’t stop playing soccer now to devote more time to Jewish activism because it feels like he’s quitting and abandoning his long-standing devotion and hard work.

Academic pursuits also keep teenagers’ attention away from the synagogue. Orli Adamski, her 15-year-old from New York City, serves on the editorial board of her jGirls+ Magazine, a publication for teen journalists, and will likely continue her writing career in college. The magazine provided her professional resume writing experience, which was her primary goal in joining the company. “Being a Jewish magazine was just a bonus,” Adamski said.

But for some teens, leaving the synagogue does not mean they are cut off from the Jewish community.

Julien Deculus is no longer active in the synagogue where he had his Bar Mitzvahad seven years ago, but the 20-year-old is still close to the friends he made in the Los Angeles temple.

“The relationships I developed at the temple extended beyond the youth group at the temple, so I didn’t feel disconnected from the Kol Tikwar family,” he said.

In some cases, the relationships teenagers form at the temple are more tied to Judaism than to the synagogue itself.

“I’m more interested in Judaism, but more in connection and friendship,” says 16-year-old Nathan Gaffin from Waltham, Massachusetts. I can confidently say no, but I still feel that Judaism is very important.”

Gaffin co-founded the Jewish Student Union at his high school, where only about 30 of the 1,800 students were Jewish. “It’s very important to have a small, safe space where you can say what you want without feeling threatened, have fun, and connect with people who are just like you,” he said. Gaffin’s clubs address topics such as pop culture, anti-Semitism in schools, and intersectionality within Judaism. He also makes sure there is time for casual activities and just hanging out.

While Gaffin devotes much of his time to his tennis team, he also works in his synagogue as an assistant teacher at the Hebrew School and on the Board of Trustees of the Temple Chapter of the United Synagogue Youth. During tennis season, Gaffin often misses Hebrew school classes, but he says, “He doesn’t feel like he’s missing much,” and hopes he can make time for both. hoping.

Naidich regrets not remaining involved in Jewish activities. Because, like Gaffin, they provided a “safe space” to discuss the prejudices facing Jews in comfort.especially Rapper Kanye West’s recent backlash over anti-Semitic tweetsShe realizes how uncomfortable she feels and misses the connection at the synagogue. . Naidich says she wants to attend a review class at the Temple, although she is incompatible with her Youth and Government meeting.

Making time to participate in Jewish activities is not a big concern for Charlotte Sada. “If her parents hadn’t been connected to Judaism, I wouldn’t be as connected as I am,” says the 16-year-old boy from Los Angeles, whose family attends a Conservative synagogue. .

She participates in her family’s religious activities, such as the weekly Sabbath, but after leaving home and becoming independent, she finds herself “lazy” and spends her time building a crochet business, so her I admit that I probably won’t be able to maintain the tradition of

Time management is a challenge for all young people, but youth group leader Shrier isn’t willing to sacrifice his Jewish connections. “I don’t have time, but I love the temple and want to give it what little time I have to,” he said.

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