created at: 2012-01-12The messaging about teen engagement has been heading in the wrong direction for a while.  Kids don’t care about continuity, identity-development, or ideas like “the next generation”- those are our values imposed on them.  They want to hear that they can define their own Judaism and method of engagement with our programs that meets their specific set of interests and needs.

In prior generations, and even as recently as four or five years ago, community was a rallying cry for teens.  They craved the time to see and socialize with their friends.  But in 2012, community as the convening force for teens is less and less compelling.  They continuously create, exist in, and weave in and out of communities, both virtual and physical.  There is community available 24-7 from their phones and tablets.  

The physical craving for human interaction in the age of technology does not require actually going anywhere- just wake up your laptop or push a button on your phone to engage with the people you care about.  Just like Facebook has killed the college reunion, it’s also drastically reduced the need to physically exist in a space with your friends- you can just as easily Facebook chat, Skype, or text.  Don’t think for a minute that this hasn’t impacted programs that were once predicated as the only way to see your camp friends during the year.  Including Prozdor.

So if it’s not about community, or identity, or learning, or continuity, what’s the message?

Me, myself, and I.

It’s not us telling them how to feel, it’s us validating their ownership over the way they engage.  A teen’s motivation to participate might be rooted in Zionism.  It might be due to an interest in Israeli dance or creative arts.  Perhaps it’s out of a desire to develop proficiency in Hebrew language.  Maybe they’re an independent school student looking for help in starting a Jewish cultural club. 

They want to look at me, or their parents, or their teachers and Rabbis, and say “it’s my choice and my future.  Prozdor has to be about me, relevant to me, and engage my specific passions, or it’s not worth my time.”

Am I overstating the problem?  Maybe.  There are passionate and engaged teens out there who live robust Jewish lives with a multiplicity of involvements.  But for every dyed-in-the wool USYer, NFTY kid, or Ramah camper, there’s fifty who live Jewish life rather passively, if at all.

As we design a new construct for what it means to be Prozdor, it has to be done with not just one model for participation, predicated on some combination of attending Sunday and midweek courses, but one that incorporates as many vibrant and exciting options as possible.  Text-based learning, Israel studies, Hebrew language, cultural Judaism and the Arts, leadership training, social justice, service learning, gender initiatives, and athletics all have to dwell in our school. 

I want our students to make their own meaning out of their experience.  I want one hundred students to look at me after they graduate and tell me one hundred different stories about what made Prozdor powerful and meaningful for them.  Because deep down, teens really don’t care what kind of experience I want them to have, they want to have the kind of experience that they want to have.