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to nearly 200,000 students, the major-
ity of whom are Orthodox, the vast
majority of Jewish youths involved in
Jewish education faced one path —
Hebrew school, now often called con-
gregational or religious school.
fternoons this past school
The most recent National Jewish
year often found teenager
Population Survey found that a major-
Ross Weissman tutoring
ity of Jewish children receive some
sixth-graders in Hebrew or leading
type of Jewish education.
third-graders in prayer.
At the same time, studies of the
Weissman, 18, and many of his
non-Orthodox streams show evidence
friends became mentors for younger
of the post-bar mitzvah exodus. A
children at Congregation Beth Am
2000 longitudinal study by Barry
Israel in Penn Valley, Pa., a
Kosmin and Ariela Keysar called
Conservative synagogue whose reli-
"Four Up," for the Ratner Center of
gious school allows teens from eighth
the Jewish Theological Seminary, fol-
to 12th grades to earn high school
lowed Conservative movement stu-
credits or get paid for being
dents since 1995 and found only half
"madrichim," or counselors, between
stayed in religious school through
their bar and bat mitzvah and the end
of high school.
Similarly, a representative sampling
"If you work only toward the goal
of Boston-area Jewish teens in
of a bar mitzvah, then that's it,"
Conservative, Reform and
Weissman says. "But after bar mitzvah
you can still have
gogue schools in 2000
the Cohen Center
with your friends,
Parental influence plays by
for Modern Jewish
and you're still part
Studies at Brandeis
of the congrega-
a big role in the decline.
University found that
tion. I was able to
foster my connect-
as teens grew older.
According to the
study, participation dropped from 86
Weissman is the product of one of
percent in 7th grade to 72 percent in
several campaigns in the Jewish com-
8th and 9th grades to 69 percent in
munity to combat, and even reverse, a
10th and 11th grades to 56 percent by
longtime tendency among young peo-
ple to drop off the Jewish radar screen
In addition, Reform movement sur-
after their bar or bat mitzvah.
veys, conducted randomly of commu-
With studies showing about half of
nally active teens, found that within
children in the non-Orthodox reli-
18 months after bar and bat mitzvah,
gious denominations foregoing any
50 percent of those teenagers stop par-
formal religious education after bar
ticipating in educational programs,
mitzvah age, these efforts signal new
while by the end of high school only
hope that organized American Jewry
15-20 percent of teens are involved,
may hold onto their young.
says Rabbi Andrew Davids, co-direc-
Synagogues "cannot rely on the
tor of the youth division of the Union
notion that kids will remain with us
for Reform Judaism.
simply because their parents pressure
The Brandeis study suggested that
them to," says Rabbi David
parental influence plays a big role in
Wirtschafter, associate rabbi of
that decline, and Rabbi Davids agrees.
Peninsula Temple Sholom in
"So many parents had an unfulfill-
Burlingame, Calif. "We have to create
ing experience, so they feel while the
another reason beyond that."
bar or bat mitzvah is an obligation,
Until recently few such choices
once that obligation is fulfilled, they're
released from any responsibility,"
Though day-school ranks have
Rabbi Davids says.
mushroomed in the past decade or so,
Jewish Telegraphic Agency