Square One? Re-envisioning Jewish experiences for today’s youth
Every year in our towns and neighborhoods, Jewish families fork over thousands of dollars for Russian Math School, Mass Premier Soccer, private SAT tutoring, and intensive jazz and ballet dance classes. Yet at the same time they either don’t need, want, or aren’t able to devote similar resources to Jewish activities. While there are notable exceptions, day school families and camp attendees most notably, the large majority of us aren’t buying what the Jewish community is trying to sell.
There are many reasons why that is the case. But first and foremost are excellence and value. In today’s world, you pay a premium for that which you truly value. At the end of the day, most Jewish things that families are paying for aren’t delivering the kind of value that they are seeking.
I get it.
I actually get it completely.
If your family has limited resources, would you rather pay for a Jewish something that isn’t satisfying, or a secular something that you or your kids love doing?
Jewish families are voting with their feet and their pocketbooks and the message couldn’t be clearer- they don’t want what is being offered. They want something else.
What that “something else” actually is has no easy answer. But whatever it is has to be relevant, excellent, exciting, and provide a Jewish experience that students and families both value and are willing to pay for.
Every year our students are participating in theater productions, art shows, and dance performances. Why not have venues and studios where talented artists would help guide our teens in developing their skills in acting, painting, design, mosaics, drawing, and more? Imagine an intensive theater program for Jewish teens, or a community art show at a local venue, or a graphic design business being run by teens.
Or what if we could build centers for student production where our kids could come to create movies, compose and mix music, and design apps? This is the age of YouTube, AutoTune, Garage Band, and the App Store, and with some inspired teaching and guidance all of those tools can be used to broadcast or capture a Jewish message. Can you imagine a studio outfitted with production equipment, iPads, and other equipment where kids could come to create Jewishly-inspired, high-quality work?
And what if we could build centers for sports at which Jewish kids could come and learn with outstanding Jewish and Israeli instructors, who would infuse their training with Judaism, Hebrew, and excellence. Imagine going to a regional Jewish sports academy in Sharon, or Newton, or Lexington, or Swampscott, where you could be trained in soccer, basketball, and tennis and compete at the highest levels.
Is it beyond the realm of possibility? Maybe.
Is it beyond the walls of our traditional institutions of belonging and affiliation? Probably.
Would it be expensive? You bet.
But would it be worth it to capture the hearts and minds of Jewish kids who would love what they were doing?
Do I even have to answer that question?