HOT TOPIC: Can we meaningfully engage teens by using them as classroom aides?

Rachel Kasten


 In addition to providing a high-quality Jewish educational experience for our students currently enrolled in a religious school, congregational educators also are tasked with recruiting new students to fill our classrooms.  The trend towards being unaffiliated has synagogues scrambling to attract new members.  While synagogues are an important – and the most common – entry point to Judaism, the questions I ask an educator are these: are each of these members truly Jewishly involved (beyond their checkbooks)?  And what can we be doing to ensure that our students retain this involvement into adulthood?

Growing up in an area with a small Jewish population, I often heard the expression, “You cannot become a Jew by osmosis.”  If this is true, then simply becoming a member of a congregation does not make you (and keep you) Jewish.  I believe that the deeper issue is not recruitment, but engagement.  It is what Ron Wolfson of Synagogue 3000 referred to as “connectedness.”  Once a person makes the commitment to become a member of a synagogue, are they spiritually fulfilled?  Are they becoming part of a kehillah kedoshah (holy community)?  Are they finding a meaningful way to contribute to the congregation?  If the answer to these questions is “no,” then their tie to the Jewish community may be tenuous at best.

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