Retilting the Playing Field: Emerging Assumptions About How to Engage Jewish Teens Today

September 4, 2020 | News

This article by Alex Pomson, Frayda Gonshor Cohen, Pearl Mattenson, and Zohar Rotem appeared in the summer 2020 issue of the Journal of Jewish Education on Jewish adolescence, sponsored by the Jim Joseph Foundation. 

This paper is a first effort to systematically document programmatic interventions in five of the ten communities participating in The Jewish Teen Education & Engagement Funder Collaborative, a joint philanthropic effort launched in 2013. The paper identifies patterns and trends reflected in the programmatic choices made by each community. It then makes explicit five assumptions that underpin these choices and reflects on what they imply for further teen education and engagement efforts. These assumptions, as elaborated in the paper, are identified as: (1) “every body counts;” (2) “breaking down the silos;” (3) “integrating curation and innovation;” (4) “tapping Israel;” and (5) “searching for blue ocean.”

In 2013, the Jim Joseph Foundation released a report, Effective Strategies for Educating and Engaging Jewish Teens (BTW/Rosov Consulting, 2013). The report included a scan that identified examples of scalable and innovative programs being employed to engage Jewish teens; its goal was to provide a vision of the possible for the field. The report spurred a collaborative effort, spearheaded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, which brought together 14 foundations and federations with a shared interest in expanding and deepening community-based Jewish teen education and engagement. The group especially hoped to address what had long been one of the most intractable problems in Jewish education: the post Bnei Mitzvah exit of young people from Jewish education programs, precisely at an age when they those experiences could be especially formative. This group evolved into the Jewish Teen Education & Engagement Funder Collaborative.

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