Sunday, February 5, 2012

It’s The Connection

from the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

A Message from our President, Dr. Alan Spector

It’s The Connection

Although I was not in attendance, leaders of Reform congregations gathered together at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial convention in Washington D.C. last month and returned home feeling energized, and determined to meet the challenge set by the movement’s leadership: to double synagogue participation by high school seniors by the end of the decade. Our own Rabbi Schwartz attended the biennial, as did President Obama who spoke at the convention [see our previous post, Obama at the URJ]. With more than 6,000 attendees, this Biennial was the largest ever, the first to be sold out, and one of the largest indoor gatherings of American Jews ever.

With its new “Campaign for Youth Engagement”, the URJ is focusing on the statistic that “80 percent of the children who become b’nei mitzvah will have no connections of any kind to their Jewish community by the time they reach 12h grade”. The goal of the campaign is that by 2020, we increase the number of young people who will stay involved throughout high school from 20 percent to 50 percent.

The youth engagement campaign is about helping congregations ask intentional, challenging questions about themselves, about whether everything is as excellent as it can be.

As President of Adas Emuno, I have the responsibility of asking these questions of you, specifically: Is everything as excellent as it can be? More concrete questions are: What can we do to make it better (whether we focus only on the Campaign for Youth Engagement or something additional that we can help with)? Do we, as just one small congregation that is a member of the Union for Reform Judaism, have to take responsibility for this grim statistic or do we, as parents, grandparents, extended family and/or friends of our 13-18 year olds who are the focus of this statistic, have to take some responsibility as well?

Do you have your own Jewish traditions such as Shabbat dinner, weekly candlelighting, Friday night challah (and having your kids look forward to having “daddy’ s french toast made with the leftovers on Sunday morning)? Do your children attend Jewish-based pre-schools, Jewish-themed day and sleep-away camps? Do they become involved, along with yourselves, with Jewish-based causes and social justice, celebrations of any and all Jewish holidays? Do we go out of our way to have our “at risk” youth continue to connect with the Jewish counterparts that they have met along the way? As Rabbi Schwartz asked us at the High Holidays, “are you making Jewish memories”?

As a parent of three young adults, I am aware that it is not always so easy to always raise our children “Jewishly”, to give them a sense of Jewish pride and identity, particularly as Reform Jews who are being raised in a mostly secular environment. But we have to begin somewhere, and we do: with the celebration at a Brit Milah or a baby naming; with attendance at Religious School; with becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah; and hopefully, with Confirmation. Maintaining a family affiliation with the synagogue after Bar or Bat Mitzvah is also crucial; it demonstrates a commitment to Judaism long after the celebrations.

So it’s not so easy to make all this happen, but there is help along the way if you need it: be it emotional, spiritual, financial, or otherwise. And for many of our interfaith families, it is even more crucial that they be given the resources and guidance they need to make sure that the partners who were not born Jewish, but either are Jews by choice or have chosen Judaism for their children, feel welcome in the community, and their children feel secure in their Jewish identity.

We need to ask our young people what their positive Jewish memories are, both in and out of the synagogue. With this knowledge, one would hope that a greater percentage of our high school seniors will move on to universities and associate with Jewish organizations such as Hillel and/or Jewish-based fraternities and sororities. That on a spring break, a greater percentage will take advantage of a Birthright Israel program. And yes, that they will eventually choose a lifestyle informed by their own childhood Jewish memories, a life where they will create new memories for the next generation.

The new leader of the Reform movement, Rabbi Richard Jacobs said, “We should not be talking about the unaffiliated; we should talk about uninspiring congregations. We need to look at what’s inspiring people.” Clearly, we need to hear from you. It is up to each and every one of us, our members and friends of our Jewish community, to be of help, to feel comfortable seeking help. As parents, grandparents and guardians of Jewish children, it’s the connection to our Jewish heritage that we presently share that will make it happen. It’s all about the kinderlech.



No comments:

Post a Comment