Thu, 12/17/1998 - 19:00
The move comes on the heels of the movement’s new yearlong study to develop ethical guidelines for its teenagers and young adults to combat the moral crisis in today’s anything-goes popular culture. The new initiative will supplement Reform’s current activities, which includes spending $950,000 a year on its NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth programs — the Reform movement’s youth movement. Reform’s 11 camps have a combined budget of $18 million, and $4 million is spent each year sending youth to Israel. But Rabbi Yoffie, at a recent board meeting in Memphis, acknowledged that NFTY is no more than a shadow of its former self. Compared to his youth, (he is 50) when in many communities, virtually every Reform Jewish youth became part of his or her synagogue’s youth group, synagogues today have a teenage drop out rate that is “appallingly high” after the age of 13, Rabbi Yoffie said. A Reform spokeswoman said that currently, only 15 percent of all Reform kids are involved NFTY. “The key to successful teen programs is to begin where the kids are,” said Rabbi Yoffie, explaining why the youth initiative will begin with junior youth groups and programs that weave informal and formal education programs for children in grades 5 through 7. Rabbi Yoffie said most of today’s synagogue educational programs concentrate on bar or bat mitzvah lessons, but after that, the kids drop out. “If we had to choose, we would be far better off if the average child had three years of religious school prior to bar or bat mitzvah and three years of school and youth group afterward,” Rabbi Yoffie said. The program’s primary emphasis is on the hiring of well-trained professionals because wherever there is a successful, vibrant congregational youth program, “the starting point in every case is a congregational youth worker who is well-trained and Jewishly knowledgeable professional youth worker who truly knows adolescents,” Rabbi Yoffie said. For the youth in grades 5 through 8, a network of junior youth groups will be established and programming designed to integrate formal and informal education will be established, such as junior congregations and city-wide youth choirs, Shabbat programs and conclaves. Within two years, UAHC will develop a range of innovative programs for those teenagers who are not interested in the youth group, such as a summer travel program focusing on social justice projects or a summer experience that includes SAT preparation and college visitation with Jewish programming and study.