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March 24, 2005 - Image 97

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2005-03-24

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Efforts to get young Jews to feel
ceeds, or the car itself, to a charity,
part of the community, however, seem says Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, direc-
to be bearing early fruit, though no
tor of youth and informal education
one has yet researched their influence
for the movement's Pacific-Central-
on a national scale.
West region.
Cyd Weissman, whose son partici-
At Temple Sholom, just south of
pated in the Beth Am Israel's
San Francisco, students since last fall
madrichim program, was for a
have been taking Stanley Kaplan
decade director of the suburban
preparatory tests for the college board
Philadelphia congregation's school
SAT exams. They warm up by picking
and found the madrichim program
out key vocabulary words from each
yielded an 85 percent retention rate
week's Torah portion, doing the move-
from ages 13 on.
ment's new "10 Minutes of Torah"
"Eight years ago we had two or
study first.
three kids in a con-
The idea is to get
firmation class; now
teens involved in
we have 25," she
areas they already
consider important,
The idea was to
then envelop the
Get teens involved
take older students
activity in a Jewish
and have them help
in areas they already
setting in a form of
younger students in
"soft sell," says pro-
consider important.
areas they excelled
gram director Eli
at, whether it was
Torah or arts and
"We're not going
crafts, she said. In
to throw hard-core
the process, relation-
Bible or Talmud or
ships sprung up between the genera-
history studies at them. The first step
tions, in a Jewish setting, and connec-
is getting them back in the door," he
tions were made.
"The whole frame for Jewish educa-
But Rabbi Ed Feinstein, of the
tion is, you have learning with mean-
Conservative synagogue Valley Beth
ing, in a nurturing, caring context;
Shalom in the Los Angeles suburb of
you start when kids are younger and
Encino, takes a different approach.
you build on that when they're older,"
Feinstein, who wrote a book aimed
she says.
at answering theological questions
Now Weissman is working with 20
from a teen perspective, Tough
non-Orthodox synagogues in the New
Questions Jews Ask, says "kids know
York area on a project called "Re-
when they're being sold something.
Imagine," for the Experiment in
They have a powerful nose for the
Congregational Education. In it, each
synagogue is asked questions such as
His synagogue takes a tough tack
what role family and community
with parents of teens entering their
plays, and what's the connection
religious school. "We tell them that if
between learning and living.
they leave after bar mitzvah, it's a lie,"
The Reform movement is also
he says.
launching new, informal methods of
Instead, the school practices "good
Jewish education outside of congrega-
teaching." One teacher screens
tional school classrooms and youth
episodes of the classic TV show
groups but inside synagogues. These
"Twilight Zone" and debates the
"alternate doors" to Judaism include
Jewish ethical issues the shows raise.
teen healing services; rap groups or
Another teaches a class that debates
Jewish theater, Davids says.
Jewish values arising from provocative
In one rural Northern California
court trials of issues such as assisted
synagogue, students are overhauling
an old car, then debating the Jewish
"In the end, it's the question, 'Is this
view of tzedakah, with a view toward
worth my time?"' he says of whether
selling the car and donating the pro-
students will choose to stay on. ❑

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