MiTY Guys Keeps Teen Boys Engaged in Jewish Life
Imagine yourself as a 14-year-old Jewish boy. You just became Bar Mitzvah last year. That was a great accomplishment, but what's next? What sorts of activities would you choose to occupy your free time? Sports, video games, hanging out with friends, synagogue youth group?
If that last option gives you pause, you're not alone. Across the United States, teenage boys are disproportionately dropping out of Jewish life relative to their female peers. The effect is reverberating across the youth groups and summer camps of liberal Jewish denominations; Temple Micah is no exception.
MiTY (Micah Temple Youth) is our recently reinvigorated combined high school/ youth group program. Under the leadership of our teen board, MiTY runs an average of three to four events each month. Our events present a mix of social, educational, cultural, and social action opportunities.
We have seen a significant increase in participation since the launch of the new program last fall, but our numbers have been bolstered far more by girls than by boys. Just under 20 percent of our 8th to 12th grade boys regularly attend. Among the girls, that number is closer to 40 percent. We have seen an increase in participation by both girls and boys since the new MiTY model launched this past fall, but the gender disparity remains.
People often ask what causes this national trend of absenteeism. The answer is simple: the available Jewish programmatic choices don't appeal to boys.
Research underwritten by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation confirms that boys are deeply interested in Jewish learning, ritual, and community. Yet, on the whole, congregational high school and youth group programming is not speaking to their learning and socialization styles, or to their developmental needs. The result is a systemic failure to engage this group.
Synagogues have long struggled to address this problem. A frequent strategy is a contract under which teens agree to continue their synagogue involvement through at least the tenth or eleventh grade. This approach generally fails. The intention is admirable - to encourage students to recognize the continuing importance of Jewish learning and community as they approach adulthood. But, this tactic is flawed as it is perceived as coercive.
What if, instead of a contract, we give our teen guys something to get excited about? What if we were to create a program that speaks to them where they are, rather than where we think they should be? That is the aim of MiTY Guys, our new group for high school boys.
MiTY Guys is generously sponsored by a Union for Reform Judaism incubator grant. I envision a vibrant community of 14-17-yearold boys. We will play together, eat together, laugh together, learn together, and celebrate Judaism together. Whether it's on the basketball court, at a social action service site, or at Temple Micah, our time together will be active, engaging, challenging, and fun.
In March, we had a very productive general interest meeting in which many parents and boys shared their thoughts about such a program. The boys overwhelmingly (and unsurprisingly) expressed interest in sports and other competitive activities; and yet, there was also a very strong desire for active and participatory service learning. I intend to honor their desires as the program takes shape.
Temple Micah is among the first synagogues in the Jewish community to offer this sort of program for boys. This is an incredibly invigorating opportunity but one that comes with many responsibilities. For this program to be a success and become a model for other Jewish communities, we are charged with the responsibility to look within our ranks and really listen to our constituents. My hope is that this program will evolve as it progresses, and its success hinges on honest feedback and new ideas at every step. My goal is that MiTY Guys will play a role in fashioning the next generation of proud and confident Jewish men. I hope that we can start a trend that will change the shape of American Jewish life for boys.
[By Danny Moss; from April-May 2011 Vine]