There’s a disturbing trend in many Jewish communities: after becoming a “Jewish adult” on the bima and celebrating with friends and family, a majority of teens disengage from Jewish life. That’s why our Federation created the Los Angeles Jewish Teen Initiative and is working tirelessly to reverse this trend and ensure our Jewish future.
The Los Angeles Jewish Teen Initiative aims to provide experiences for teens that help them develop a positive Jewish identity. According to Shira Rosenblatt*, Federation’s senior vice president of Jewish education and engagement, “We really do believe that a connection to Jewish life — in the broader sense, a connection to community — can offer resources and insights and support for teens in a way that can be tremendously beneficial to them.”
Three key areas of focus will help us achieve our goal. First, we are engaging more teens by enhancing the programs that are available to them in L.A. Second, we are supporting and empowering the professionals who work with them. And third, we are creating connections and resources that strengthen the network supporting Jewish teens.
So, why don’t more teens participate in existing Jewish programs? Our research has shown that it’s not necessarily because they don’t want to get involved. In Los Angeles, there just aren’t enough Jewish opportunities tailored toward teenagers. Plus, many parents and kids are unaware of what does exist because there is no central hub of information to help them find it. In addition, there hasn’t been a wide enough variety of Jewish activities and experiences to reflect the diverse interests of teens. Until now.
Collaborating with partner organizations in the community, our Teen Program Accelerator will expand existing Jewish programs and create new ones that will appeal to a range of teen interests. From outdoor adventure to teen entrepreneurship, these Jewish-based opportunities will give teenagers a chance to connect with one another and identify their own Jewish values. Most importantly, these programs will be open to all Jewish teens across Los Angeles, regardless of their institutional affiliations or denominations.
While the Teen Program Accelerator is a major driving force in our Federation’s goal to engage more teens, there is so much more to this new initiative. We are also supporting and empowering the teeneducators by giving them opportunities for professional growth, resource sharing and networking. This, in turn, is creating a support system that will help them bring their Jewish programs and their professional skills to the next level.
With the guidance of marketing and branding experts, our Federation will also launch a website for the Los Angeles Jewish Teen Initiative in the spring that will serve as a “go-to” for teens, parents and program providers. There they will find information about what Jewish opportunities exist and how they can participate.
Finally, woven throughout each of the aspects of our new initiative is a theme of wellness — not the food pyramid kind, but the emotional, mental and spiritual kind. Our Federation understands that the immense pressures facing teens often lead to excessive stress and anxiety. Said Shari Davis, Director of Jewish Education and Engagement, “We want to help combat these issues by creating a network of resources and support, and by sharing new thinking about teen well-being, and how Jewish wisdom, ritual and community can help teenagers live balanced, healthy lives.”
“We’re doing something truly innovative,” said Zach Morrow, Assistant Director of the Los Angeles Jewish Teen Initiative. “We are not just creating programs that don’t exist. We’re helping our partners create the programs that will build the future of their organizations and of Jewish Los Angeles.”
The Los Angeles Jewish Teen Initiative is co-funded by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Jim Joseph Foundation, with seed funding provided by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.
*Originally quoted in the November 2015 issue of the Jewish Journal.