Young Judaea youth movement teams up with community centers

NEW YORK, July 21 (JTA) — A Zionist youth group without local meeting places and a network of facilities looking to step up teen and Israel-related programming have embarked on a new partnership. The Jewish Community Centers Association, the umbrella for some 275 community centers and camps in North America, and Young Judaea, a 12,000-member youth movement sponsored by the Zionist women’s organization Hadassah, recently announced plans to join forces on a trial basis in 25 communities. Under the agreement, JCCs will offer free meeting and office space for Young Judaea chapters while providing training, supervision and educational resources for their professional staff. The partnership comes at a time when teens are seen as a vital — and at risk— piece in the larger Jewish continuity picture. A 1997 study by the Jewish Education Service of North America predicted that “unless the Jewish community acts quickly and decisively, there is a distinct possibility that the current cohort of Jewish adolescents will be far less connected to Jewish life as adults than the previous cohort.” Youth groups, which offer informal Jewish education and the chance to socialize with other Jewish teens, claim less than 25 percent of America’s estimated 350,000 Jewish adolescents as members, said Rabbi Art Vernon, JESNA’s director of educational development. And the number who are active in the groups is much smaller, he said. Founded in 1909, Young Judaea last year commissioned a “continuity study” of 600 alumni, which linked Young Judaea involvement to high rates of synagogue affiliation, religious observance, connection to Israel and marriage to other Jews. Last year a JCCA task force on teens urged Jewish community centers to project a more “teen-friendly” atmosphere by offering space and well-trained staff for youth programs, focusing on camping, sports, youth groups, cultural arts, community service and Israel travel programs. The JCCA’s best-known teen program is its annual Maccabi Games, which bring together more than 5,000 teen athletes from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Great Britain and Israel. The JCCA and Young Judaea, both nondenominational organizations, will continue to maintain separate budgets and operate independent summer camps and Israel programs, but the JCCs will help promote Young Judaea’s post-high school yearlong program in Israel. According to Leonard Rubin, JCCA’s assistant executive director for program services, the partnership will help give JCCs the reputation as a “place to be for Jewish youth.” The arrangement with Young Judaea will not sever already existing relationships between many JCCs and other nondenominational youth groups, such as the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, said Rubin. In communities where “the youth group of the JCC” is BBYO, Young Judaea will not be introduced, said Rubin. However, in places where BBYO is simply leasing or receiving free space, Young Judaea may join. The arrangement does not attempt to shift teens from one group to another but aims instead to attract more teens to Jewish life, said Rubin. Sam Fisher, the international director for BBYO, said he was not concerned about the potential competition from Young Judaea, even though most North American BBYO chapters currently meet in JCC facilities. Fisher noted that his own organization has 20,000 members in North America, most of whom are of high school age, while 8,000 of 12,000 Young Judaea’s members are pre-high school or college age. “I wish them very good luck,” said Fisher, adding that BBYO and the JCCA considered a partnership years ago but “both sides decided it wouldn’t work out.” The Young Judaea-JCCA partnership also will not affect the Zionist youth group’s relationship with the 35 Reconstructionist congregations that host it, said representatives of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation and Doron Krakow, national director of Young Judaea.

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