OU Also Struggles Keeping Teens in the Tent

Dr. Simcha Katz, President of the Orthodox Union, writing in Jewish Action:

Touching Our Teens’ Neshamos

A quarter of students who come to college as Orthodox Jews report that they  changed their denominational identity while at college, according to a six-year-old study by the Avi Chai Foundation (Amy L. Sales and Leonard Saxe, “Particularism in the University: Realities and Opportunities for Jewish Life on Campus” [Brandeis University, 2006], 17). Based on our own current experiences on the fifteen college campuses where the Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) operates, that statistic has not improved.

It is no secret that many Orthodox teens do not find fulfillment, meaning and purpose in Judaism. Go to your local shul on Shabbos and ask yourself, “Where are the teens?” Sure, there are teen minyanim and always a few scattered teens who join their parents in the services, but where are the rest of them?

… I have been told that an underground teen Shabbos culture exists in many frum communities in which teens party on Friday night in an empty house or basement. Unsupervised, they go online, listen to music and hang out. Oftentimes, there’s drinking and drugs.

Is there a spirituality crisis afflicting our youth? Our educators in NCSY think so. At NCSY’s YouthCon, a convention held this past summer that brought together informal Jewish educators from across the country, one popular panel discussion was entitled “Spirituality Crisis: Does it Exist? Can We Fix It?”

The session made clear that no matter how much we educate our teens, no matter how we scrimp and save to put them through yeshivah, no matter what kind of atmosphere we try to create in our homes, shuls and schools, many of our teens are more likely to devote themselves to their smartphones, iPads, iPods and Facebook accounts than to Chumash or Tosafos.

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  1. says

    As someone who grew up in that circle and had questions but somehow made it through and now living proudly in Israel, I want to begin by saying that NCSY does great work with their constituents! Yasher Koach.

    The teens of today are ‘not like they used to be’ but that’s pretty obvious. What needs to change is not the content but rather the approach. They will learn Tosafot but maybe need to know that it’s accessible via the ipad. The teens need to feel that the educators are empowering them and not speaking from above.

    Take the time to understand their needs and interests rather than only design programs that do not involve their input. As an example, when my wife and I were chapter heads we decided to ask the group what they wanted to do for a fun activity. Five of the students said a monster truck rally. Not exactly the typical NCSY/ Jewish event but guess what even 10 years later those same kids (all observant) come up to me and say we remember that day when we probably were the only Jews in the arena.

    It’s not impossible to find cool, engaging leaders that are willing to take the bottom up approach.

    Wishing NCSY much luck and hope that you can increase the numbers of participants in the Tent.