This past December, a large delegation from our congregation attended the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial convention in Washington, DC. In addition to the election of Rabbi Rick Jacobs as our movement’s new president, the other major convention item was the unveiling of a new Campaign for Youth Engagement. Chief among the issues to be addressed by this campaign is tackling the challenge of post-B’nei Mitzvah drop out.
With all due respect to our friends at the Union, we’re already presenting the message, loud and clear, that Bar and Bat Mitzvah is the starting line, not the finish line, of Jewish education. As a congregation, we have spoken out against “pediatric Judaism” on countless occasions: the idea that Jewish learning and practice are only for our kids. When we changed our internal educational model several years ago, we made it clear that we promote lifelong learning. We extended B’nei Mitzvah preparation from six months in advance to one whole year with a goal of developing better prepared students who possess a deeper understanding of the prayers and the Scriptures so that they can not only lead the service on one given Saturday morning, but so that they can also continue to participate Jewishly for the rest of their lives. Quite significantly, our Temple Institute of Religion no longer ends after 7th grade as it did in the days of Beit Midrash, eliminating a powerful historical “drop-out” point. It now continues through High School Graduation. Similarly, what used to be called “Adult Education” was rebranded years ago as “Lifelong Learning,” to remind both children and adults that learning is a core value of our faith and needs to be engaged in by Jews of all ages. We’ve offered Adult Hebrew on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings, to remind our kids that adults can be learners, too. Likewise, we’ve offered a Sunday morning “replay” of popular First Monday of the Month Lifelong Learning Classes (the Kabbalah class on Jewish mysticism, as a recent example) engaging an audience that couldn’t make it on a Monday night, as well as one that was already here on a Sunday morning.
Furthermore, in speaking with representatives from the Union at this past Biennial, they shared with me that we are already among the national leaders in post-B’nei Mitzvah retention, with 80% of our eligible kids participating in one or more of our three post-B’nei Mitzvah learning programs: continued formal education (Aliyah for 9th grade, Confirmation for 10th, and Mechina for 11th and 12th), our Madrichim program at TIR, and our informal education programs of Kol Tov and JAFTY. Get your registration in now to be part of these amazing programs in the year ahead!
A very successful year of learning drew to a close in June, and an amazing new year begins this month. All of us: young and old, well-versed and completely inexperienced, congregational members and those new to our community, Jews by birth, Jews by Choice, and non-Jews as well, can continue or begin our Jewish journeys together with Lifelong Learning here at the Temple. As Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers reminds us, “Al shlosha d’varim ha’olam omeid: al ha Torah, v’al ha Avodah, v’al G’milut Chasadim.” “On three things does the world stand: on Learning, on Worship, and on Acts of Loving Kindness.” (Avot 1:2) I look forward to joining you for all three this year as we stand up together to become better people and better Jews, and work to better our world in the process.