Bucking the Trends: Why Occupying Judaism Must Be Accessible to More Than the 20%
By Avra Bossov, NFTY Social Action Vice President
It is hard to think that just one month ago, 5,000 Reform Jews gathered in Washington DC for URJ Biennial. It is even harder to imagine that already two months have passed since the representatives from NFTY, BBYO, and Young Judea gathered in Boston for a Coalition of Jewish Teen Leaders (CJTL) meeting—the first proactive (rather than reactive in times of distress or natural disaster relief) call to order of Jewish youth organizations.
What is not hard to imagine are the steps that we are willing to take to ensure the future of Judaism.
For me, as one who has grown up entrenched in the Jewish world with parents as a rabbi and Jewish educator, my Jewish journey in comparison to that of my peers has been anything but conventional. Because of that, my path so far – as a two-year regional board member of NFTY Pennsylvania Area Region (PAR) and as NFTY Social Action Vice President this year – offers me such a unique perspective. My background enables to me to look from the inside out: what life is like in the Jewish world, with real people and real issues that any Jew in today’s society faces. The greatest realization that stems from my background is that we all – as Jews young and old and everything in between – have our own Jewish journey.
I am a part of the 20% of Jewish youth that has stayed engaged post-b’nei mitzvah. I have seen friends from religious school drop out after becoming a bar or bat mitzvah; I have had trouble explaining why I spent 5 weekends each year of my high school career at a NFTY event; I have been shocked every time that Jewish “jokes” still trickle into conversations.
As I participated heavily in both URJ Biennial and the CJTL meeting, I can assure you that despite the 80% of teens who are “unengaged,” the people with whom I have the pleasure of working will continue working day in and day out to reverse the trend. I believe firmly that through people, pathways, and partnerships we can achieve a significant alteration of the current percentages of engagement. The reality is that the relationships built are what propels us forward and links us to our past—which is why the CJTL meeting and all that happened at Biennial are so pertinent. Putting faces to names and organizations helps accentuate the values and purpose behind the work that all investors in the Jewish future do. And yet, it’s more than the Jewish future. It’s the Jewish now.
In NFTY, the concept of generational leadership often enters the discussion, encompassing the opportunity to leave a legacy. I speak now to the 20% who are engaged:
Think for a moment about where you would be without being engaged…Like Jacob said, “If you’re looking for a place to create change in the world, make lifelong friends that will relate to you like no one else, and allow you to be a part of something bigger, the Jewish community is the platform for you.” The things he listed are why you are here. At this juncture, it is imperative to leave your legacy. Engage others, like those who helped bring you into a kehillah k’doshah (holy community). Build the relationships that have shaped you into the person you are today. Live in the moment and seize it to do all you can to stand for what you care about—and that’s how the statistics can flip, so that 80% are engaged and it is the 20% who are not yet. It really is up to us.