Choosing the Right Key: Serious Teen Engagement through Jewish Skill Building

one-side-does-not-fit-allBy Rabbi Daniel Freelander

My big learning from all the studies in teen engagement is that one size does NOT fit all. Individually matching each of our young people with an opportunity for deep engagement in a skill that matches their social, intellectual, physical or artistic interest may be the next horizon in maximizing Jewish connections.

That will require our youth workers and adult mentors to become advocates for programs outside their movement, organization or personal experience. Without knowing the marketplace of successful programs, we may be blocking access to the activity that will set a young person on a lifelong trajectory of Jewish engagement. And without personally offering suggestions for Jewish opportunities that would only suit them, we run the risk of limiting their perspective on Jewish life to their Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience or their perception of the local Jewish youth organization. Be it sports or Jewish study or music performance or service learning, each of our teens has a passion. Success requires active, personal, one on one matching of the right opportunity with the individual’s needs and interests.

Vivian Lazar has it right. The HaZamir choral experience treats young people like responsible adult musicians. And time after time they live up to those expectations and are transformed by the experience. While striving for musical excellence, learning to be a contributing member of a community (i.e. your vocal section), the teens inevitably create personal bonds with those with whom they share the experience. And they create lifelong positive Jewish memories and friendships.

If your community does not yet have a serious Jewish choral opportunity like HaZamir, its time the bring together those who know the Jewish young people in local high school music programs and help create a HaZamir chapter. Music transcends all boundaries for those who resonate to its discipline and inherent spirituality and community building. It is the ultimate Klal Yisrael experience.

Its not for everyone, but for the serious teen musician, HaZamir may just be the right entry point into lifetime of Jewish engagement.

Rabbi Daniel Freelander is president of the World Union of Progressive Judaism. A lifelong choral singer, he also serves on the board of the Zamir Choral Foundation.