Engaging Our Youth

Over the last year, a major focus of our education and youth engagement efforts has been to keep more young members of our Temple Beth Or community actively engaged. In particular, we have put a significant focus on growing BOTY, our youth group. Because we recently hosted a very successful BOTY lock-in, I thought it would be an appropriate time to kvell a little and share some of the exciting happenings with this crucial aspect of our education and youth outreach program.

As I think about the work that has taken place over the last months to grow BOTY, I am reminded of a famous verse from Proverbs 22:

חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר עַל-פִּי דַרְכּוֹ; גַּם כִּי-יַזְקִין לֹא-יָסוּר מִמֶּנָּה.

Teach a child according to his way; even when he grows old he will not stray from it.

This verse has at least a couple of ways to be interpreted. It might be (and is often thought of as) a suggestion that we should personalize our educational efforts- That if we teach a child according to his way, then he or she will not stray from it. However, another way that we can understand this verse—the one that I think can be meaningful to us as we think of the types of work we currently are doing with our teens at Temple Beth Or—is the following: If we make a point of reaching our children, then we can be more certain that they will know how to survive and thrive as they grow up.

This latter interpretation of the verse simultaneously brings me great satisfaction and energizes me as I reflect on the growth we have had with BOTY. I am satisfied knowing that we are reaching a greater and greater proportion of our teen population, because I know that we can make the biggest difference in our children’s lives if we make sure that each knows that the Temple Beth Or community is here for him or her. I am energized because this verse acts as a charge: Should some of our children not sense a tangible, caring presence from our synagogue community, there is a risk that we will fail them.

2016 High Schoolers 3 FB1of1 3 school Dowlar

The good news is that, as of right now, our work with BOTY has me feeling great satisfaction and hoping that we are in the midst of a successful push to more effectively reach our Temple Beth Or teens. Just a few weeks ago, on December 9th-10th, BOTY held an overnight lock-in that was arranged in conjunction with Alan Goodis’ visit to our synagogue. Roughly 2/3 of  our high school-aged members came to the lock-in, at which they attended our special camp-themed Friday night services, stayed overnight in their lounge to socialize with one-another, enjoyed a breakfast of eggs and pancakes cooked by Rabbi Chessin and myself, and engaged in a musical, Jewishly-rooted learning session with Alan Goodis.

As a whole, I can say with great happiness that our BOTY youth group is growing. While last year it had been dormant for some years’ time, we can now expect ten or more teens to attend any given event, we have an advisor who seems to be working well with our youth, and we have a dedicated high school-led board for BOTY. We have, in fact, even become a small-but-mighty force in our larger youth group (NFTY) region: By proportion, we send more teens to events right now than many far larger synagogues.

More than anything else, I think that we can be proud of the way that our teens’ experience with BOTY will help us to fulfill the imperative from Proverbs 22: I believe that we are effectively helping our youth to find their way. I am excited to see the many great things to come as our youth group continues to grow!