The Importance of the Teen Years

A new study has been released by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation that takes a look at the short and long term impact of BBYO (an independent youth organization that was part of B’nai B’rith International until 2000) on Jewish youth in their teenage years.

Among other significant findings, the study makes clear that with the ingredients of close friendships, Jewish experiences and leadership opportunities, participation in BBYO leads to significantly greater commitment to Jews and Jewish life, both on a communal and personal level. Across several measures, BBYO alumni demonstrate a strong sense of Jewish pride and peoplehood, desire to play leadership roles in their communities and connection to the State of Israel. They support Jewish organizations with their checkbooks and free time, participate actively in Jewish social networks and exhibit a desire and commitment to raising Jewish families. Moreover, the study reveals that these individuals directly credit involvement in BBYO for their growth on these fronts.

Recent studies from the Foundation for Jewish Camp and Moving Traditions support similar underlying findings: that effectively designed Jewish teen experiences successfully reach and engage youth, helping them feel pride in their Jewish identity, encouraging them to contribute to Jewish life, and even ensuring a greater resiliency against the pressures that are commonplace in the teenage years.

In releasing the study, Lynn Schusterman, chair of the Foundation, issued a call to the Jewish community to elevate the teen years as a priority on our communal agenda.

“We have clear evidence that the experiences provided by youth groups and Jewish camps are stemming the trend of disaffiliation that far too often permeates the teenage years,” says Schusterman. “It is time for us to stop focusing on what we are doing wrong and instead invest our human and financial resources in replicating and expanding what we are doing right.”

This impact research comes at a critical time. Researchers and sociologists who study American Jews have been documenting a decline in interest and participation in Jewish youth organizations and activities by young Jews born in the waning years of the 20th century. It is estimated that around 75 percent of teenage Jews celebrate their bar or bat mitzvah; yet, by the time these individuals reach their last two years of high school, at best about half continue to be involved in Jewish life.

This study was conducted by Groeneman Research & Consulting and Gerstein | Agne Strategic Communications, and included responses from 3,000 Jewish high schoolers, college-age students and young adults who are or were involved in BBYO, as well as from a comparison sample “weighted” to mirror the BBYO alumni on a wide range of demographic and family traits, thus enabling the researchers to isolate the unique impact of BBYO participation as much as possible.

A summary of the BBYO Impact Study, as well as the full report, can be downloaded here.

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  1. The focus on teens makes a lot of sense. However, I would ask that you make a couple of conditions before working too closely specifically with the JSU (Jewish Student Union). Please demand that the JSU’s board no longer be controlled by the Orthodox Union as it currently is (look: http://www.jsu.org/our-board-of-directors/ ) , and end NCSY doubling staff as JSU advisors.

    NCSY’s significant role in the JSU is unfortunate because they recruit for ultra-Orthodox and even haredi institutions, and boast of their role in their indoctrination to both haredi dysfunction and hardline fundamentalism. This is unnecessary collateral damage, but it is considered the highest of achievements by many in Kiruv and within the Orthodox Union/NCSY itself.

    Shouldn’t BBYO be the dominant partner of the JSU? And shouldn’t NCSY be excluded from the JSU unless it agrees–in writing, with a list of approved yeshivas and seminaries– to cease and desist recruitment in any form to haredi and other fundamentalist institutions?

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