In June, the RJ blog re-bosted a piece from HearHereParent entitled The Ice Cream Cone Approach to Youth Engagement. In it, the author, among other things a consultant for the Union for Reform Judaism’s ongoing Campaign for Youth Engagement, suggests that one of the reasons our Jewish youth shy away from organized religious life as they grow into adults is because we aren’t reaching out to them enough to extol the virtues of traditional synagogue life.
Points to you if alarm bells are ringing in your head already. It seems to me, too, that the problem is more along the lines of not offering our youth adequate, relevant ways to participate within our synagogue walls–ways that include leadership, decision-making, and programming beyond the firewalled confines of NFTY.
So I had to reread the post to make sure its central point wasn’t intended as a joke. It wasn’t. And what was it? That Jewish adults should consider taking Jewish youth out for ice cream to talk about their religious engagement.
When one-on-one ice cream socials start being suggested as useful tools in the war on youth disengagement, it’s a sure bet the problem is not with out stars (i.e. our youth), but with ourselves–or at least with our persistently traditional way of thinking about the whole thing. We can talk to our youth until Elijah shows up on Pesach–over ice cream or anything else–and it won’t change a thing. Our children aren’t poorly versed in organized synagogue life. They just aren’t interested.
And why should they be, given that most of the Jewish adults in their lives are similarly checked out when it comes to religious life? As a movement, we are simply bearing the absolutely logical fruits of parental and community modeling. Mom and dad don’t bother to go to shul, so why should I?
I don’t think parents who show up in synagogue once a season–or twice a year–and who place greater importance on getting their kids to a weekend soccer match than to religious school or Shabbat worship should complain. Nor should the movement to which they belong. We are getting back exactly what we are giving out.
I have no solution here. The way I see it, the kids will do the community thing for themselves when they hit college and if they want it. (Witness Chicago’s amazing Mishkan community.) They just won’t do it under the aegis of denominational Jewry, at least not until we finally accept that the things that are broken in the youth engagement drama are in no way broken on the part of the youth.
And I hardly think, if I had kids, that I would want anyone suggesting that other adults consider taking them out for coffee to talk about God. That’s my job.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.