With Oscar season upon us, I find myself once again so disappointed in how much more my kids know about Hollywood than about their own culture and texts. My daughter has spent literally hours talking about what she thinks and has heard and read that the stars will wear. Any ideas of how to make Judaism glamorous / engaging for teens?
Teens respond to peers. My answer, and it is a firm one, is tosend more kids to summer resident Jewish camps for several years in a row.
The resident camp programs run by the Union for Reform Judaism have a decades long success story of keeping Jewish teens involved in Jewish life. Is it a perfect solution? No. However, it is the best available step we can take. Jewish campers eventually have a lower rate of intermarriage and a higher rate of synagogue membership.
Living full time for weeks each summer with a couple hundred of Jewish kids, living full time Judaism, works!
Justin Bieber says Shema before each performance.He is not Jewish but learned the Shema from watching his producer pray.His producer inadvertently inspired Justin to recite the Shema as a way of gaining calm and courage and connection with G-d.There isn’t a teenage girl in the U.S.A. who doesn’t know Bieber and his glamorous life.However, I doubt this story will inspire teenagers to be more Jewish or more religious.
I do not believe Judaism considers glamour a virtue.Though Maimonidies explains that Jews should be clean and modestly well dressed, he adds that Jewish “modesty” applies to both men and women and frowns upon deliberately bringing undue attention to oneself for the sake of that attention.Rather, I have found that it is not glamour that brings teens to Judaism but relationship.The warm, caring relationship between a religious or Jewishly educated adult and a teen, greatly, though most of the time slowly, influences the child to seek greater Jewish involvement.I would add that if parents are attending Jewish adult education classes, then the parents are demonstrating that Jewish education is not just for ‘kids’, but is valued by adults also.
It is a strange irony that matters of a person’s inner life (character, values, meaning and purpose of existence) are never as interesting as matters of a person’s outer life (appearance, accomplishments, etc.). I say that is an irony because it is precisely the inner life that ought to be of critical importance. This observation holds true for adults as well as teens. Judaism concentrates on one’s inner life so it should come as little surprise that only the exceptionally self-aware will give it more time and consideration than fashion, among other such things. Add to this rampant commercialism and the cult of celebrity, it is no wonder that young Jews are generally more interested in film stars than in Torah. It is unlikely that any attempts to change this situation would succeed, except, perhaps, for the emergence of a charismatic, observant Jewish film star. Fortunately, as children mature, their interests do change and at some point matters of their inner life become a topic of concern. It is then that Judaism would need an effective public relations campaign to convince our young people that in the marketplace of ideas, Judaism is a good deal. I am, by no means, an advertising expert. I would therefore humbly submit a few slogans. “Judaism: Making the World Better for 4000 Years.” “The Jewish People: Still Around for a Reason.” “Torah: The Better Way.” “Judaism: To Perfect the World Under the Kingship of God and the Fellowship of Humanity.”
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