Where Are the Synagogue Teenagers?


The typical Conservative synagogue consists of many different demographics. There are young families with toddlers, pre-Bar/Bat Mitzvah age Hebrew school kids, empty-nesters and grandparents. But where are the teenagers?! Where are the all the high school kids? If you have noticed this void, you are not alone. There is a growing trend in many synagogues where teenagers often lose interest in religious life after their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. But, as the international president of USY, I want to tell you that there are teens in your community. There are teenagers that want to get involved. I know because I met them. And I was one of them.

In the ideal world, every teen that becomes a Bar/Bat Mitzvah would continue to stay engaged in the synagogue. But I challenge you to ask yourself,what does your synagogue provide that benefits your teens? Synagogue leaders need to engage teenagers in the synagogue and work with teen leaders to create programming by and for teens. There are many ways to find the teen leaders in your congregation. The first place to look is your USY chapter. Reach out to your USY chapter presidents and board members, or talk to your chapter director to identify leaders without titles, and send them an email. I know they will be happy to set up a time to meet with you. If you don’t have a USY chapter in your synagogue, reach out to teenagers that might be involved in student government at their schools or who are part of Jewish Cultural clubs at school. These are the teenagers that know how to engage other teenagers.

Once you have identified the teen leaders in your community, set up a meeting with them, either over the phone or in person. If you put in the effort in an authentic way, teens will reciprocate. Treat them with respect, and try to see eye to eye. Teenagers want to feel like adults, so treat them like that! Have a brainstorming session with them about what they think other teens in the community want, whether it’s more religious or social programming oriented to teens.

There are many ways to include teens in your synagogue. Start simple with teen shabbatot every once in a while, where teenagers give the announcements, lead the services, and give divrei Torah. Show teens that the service does not always have to be about the adults. For more continuous engagement, and if your synagogue has the resources, you could run bi-monthly teen services written by teens. Maybe you could work with the teen leaders to organize parasha conversations after services with snacks. If the teens want more social programming, you could organize teen luncheons for after services or post havdalah movie nights. The possibilities are endless, but it all starts with you reaching out to the teenagers in your community.

Reaching out to the teen leaders in your community is the first step to revitalizing teen life in the synagogue. By engaging high school level teens and showing them the benefits of being involved in the synagogue you make a lifetime investment. They will inspire the younger kids to stay involved in synagogue life. Younger kids LOVE doing anything the older kids are doing. They will also come back during their breaks from college and after college because they will feel like valued members of the community. Engaging teen leaders is a investment that pays dividends for years to come.

Zachary Zabib is the 2018 USY International President. He is currently a freshman at Yale University.

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