In his recent writings about Jewish teens, Len Saxe has suggested that based on the work of Amy Sales, “we need big ideas that can be implemented and evaluated … and have the reach of a mega-program, such as Taglit-Birthright Israel” (“Engaging Jewish Teens Through A Jewish Service Corps,” Opinion, Dec. 30).
The outstanding record of accomplishment in terms of outreach and retention by Jewish Student Union (JSU) high school clubs showcases unprecedented level of engagement. It’s a big idea that’s working.
JSU clubs reach an average of 12,000 Jewish students per year and continue to grow, while Taglit-Birthright Israel reaches roughly 20,000 college students per year. Most important, the JSU educational program is informal. Studies show it is having a positive impact on teens’ knowledge of and connection to Judaism and Israel, and that for some teens, JSU inspires a significant “life change” in their relationship to Judaism.
JSU is the only organization in the country dedicated to helping high school students establish Jewish and Israel-themed clubs in public and private schools. Of course, there is understandable (but unwarranted) concern regarding church-state guidelines. Club participants are never instructed to engage in direct text study or prayer in school. Students in JSU clubs also initiate and participate in interfaith dialogue groups among their peers in school, and are part of school-wide multicultural performances and events. JSU advisors also work closely with high school guidance counselors and MASA to ensure that all students are aware of study abroad options in Israel.
Executive Director, Jewish Student Union