As a blizzard rolled into Denver, I had the joy of being with a group of kids involved in the youth groups here. A few kids were working on homework on one side of the room, while others worked on a scrapbook from the years events at a table in the kitchen. Watching these kids give up some of their afternoon to be together at the youth center, reminded me of how amazing Jewish youth involvement can be.
I have the great honor of being able to regularly staff USY, Kadima, and Atid events for the Mile High chapter. The kids who are involved are all wonderful and love being involved. It is always fun for me to be around the kids and to be able to be a mentor of living a religious Jewish life while still being very engaged in the secular world around me. I am able to answer lots of questions, while being able to relate to the dilemmas they find themselves in. We have programs starting as young as kids in 4th grade and running all the way through high school and many kids become involved early on and remain so right up until they head off to college – and then they become active with Hillel or Chabad on campus.
I am also involved with the growth of Camp Ramah in the Rockies, the site for the first specialty Ramah camp – Ramah Outdoor Adventure. While I never personally attended Ramah, I have many friends who did and I have seen the great things Ramah does for its campers, staff, and surrounding communities. This summer, we will welcome the first group of campers to Ramah Outdoor Adventure, a unique program which combines the best of outdoor adventure, environmental activism, and vibrant Jewish learning into one dynamic program.
So many young adult Jewish leaders are products of Jewish youth group activity, and what better way to build the Jewish future than by engaging our youth in fun Jewish settings? We can control environments, give them Jewish values, and teach them to lead services, leyn Torah, and be proud of their Judaism. By providing a safe space to be a Jewish teen, they learn to embrace it as they move on. Many of my sorority sisters, fellow Hillel leaders, and peers in egalitarian minyanim were products of USY, NFTY, NCSY, and/or BBYO (the four primary national/international high school Jewish youth programs).
I’m not really sure where this post is going*, but suffice to say I think Jewish youth involvement is a huge benefit to the future of American Jewry of all denominations. Encourage the youth in your life to find a camp or youth group to check out, and encourage them to try another if the first isn’t their fit.
*And since I fear we may lose power any moment, I’ll just conclude here…