One problem Jewish educators confront is the loss of interest from young adults. Kids enjoy the praise they receive for the work they put in to lead the service on their b’nei mitzvah day, they have fun at the party afterward, and … then too often they are gone, no longer motivated to come to the synagogue.
Judaism suffers from the loss of potential young leadership.
Milwaukee Temple Youth, which is part of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NIFTY), strives to help change that.
MiTY (pronounced like mighty) began in 2016, combining youths from three Milwaukee-area Reform synagogues.
“Shalom had a pretty robust youth program, we at Sinai were in the midst of restarting our youth program and Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun was trying to get its youth program off the ground,” said Barb Shimansky, the education director at Congregation Sinai, 8223 N. Port Washington Road, Fox Point. By 2015, Shimansky said, “None of us seemed to have numbers anymore.”
As the education directors at the three synagogues began looking for better ways to engage youths, Rachel Marks, the assistant rabbi at Shalom, offered, “What do you think of us all joining together?”
Shimansky thought it was “a really great idea, and the three of us (including Rabbi Jessica Barolsky, at the time the director of lifelong learning at Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun) met several times to talk about the possibilities and how to make it happen. We talked about the benefits of pooling our resources, and combined forces to create a critical mass of Reform youth.”
Advisors were brought on – one for the ninth- through 12th-graders and another for the sixth- through eighth-graders. The goal, Shimansky said, was to have one event per month through the school year, including NIFTY regional events – one of which MiTY will host in the spring.
“We want to develop a new model of youth engagement,” Shimansky said. “So far it’s been exciting that our teens have the opportunity to be with other teens from other congregations, especially on a leadership level.”
Maya Goldbaum, a 17-year-old senior at Whitefish Bay High School, is the MiTY president. “It’s been fun getting to know more Jewish teens in my community,” Goldbaum said.
Goldbaum knows the importance of youth groups for kids. “They stop going to temple (after b’nei mitzvah) if they don’t find another outlet,” she said. “Youth groups allow teens to have more of a Jewish identity.”
The MiTY board represents a cross-section of kids from the three synagogues. There is a membership vice president from each temple. “We thought it would be easier to get people to join if they knew the person recruiting them,” Goldbaum said.
Board members plan to use emails, fliers, phone calls and social media to recruit. “We’re going to talk it up, and once we get people to come, they’ll see it’s fun and will come back,” Goldbaum said.
Approximately 15 kids attended a summer ice cream social.
“We want to plan social events, religious events and social action events – a good mix of the three,” Goldbaum said. The mix might include laser tag preceded by a Havdalah service, or a baking competition at which food is sold and profits donated to a charity.
Albert Marks, the senior assistant director of Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, is the advisor for the ninth- through 12th-graders.
Marks, who is married to Rabbi Marks, said kids do most of the event planning. “MiTY runs based on personal interest and the passion of our teens,” he said. “MiTY doesn’t run unless we do things that teens are passionate about.”
Marks added, “They have the opportunity to be with kids who share the same interests and who want to be great leaders. And while it’s important that we have fun, we also are developing better people, better Jews.”
The MiTY concept is working for Goldbaum. “I have made some incredible friendships,” she said.
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Are you interested?
Contact one of the Milwaukee Temple Youth advisers:
Grades 9-12 – Albert Marks, AMarks@Urj.org
Grades 6-8 – Brian Avner, BAvner279@Gmail.com