Category Archives: Non-Profit

Uphill Marketing to Jewish Teens

Maybe a megaphone would work?

Maybe a megaphone would work?

I am an advocate for Jewish teens, and believe that all teens benefit from a Jewish education past the usual drop-off age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

By Jewish education, I don’t mean madrichim programs (where teens aide in classrooms). I mean teens participating in educational programs that build curiosity and challenges their intellect.

Full disclosure: see the About page. I’m biased.

And, playing nice is what I do.

What does that mean?

Well, I can’t really repeat the things I hear from our students about their prior Hebrew School experience in marketing materials or promotional pieces.  That would not be nice.  Plus, what students have said about their specific experience may not hold true for everyone. So, What do they say?

Here’s a sampling:

“Hebrew school was a waste of time”

“No one knew anything in my Hebrew school”

“I learned the same thing year after year at Hebrew School!”

“No one took Hebrew school seriously, no one wanted to learn!”

So, can I use these often-heard comments in marketing our program?

Well, that wouldn’t be nice, so no.

Things also get complicated when the very teens you’re trying to reach are already in Hebrew school, wanting to be done

That is precisely why marketing is an uphill struggle, and a challenge that I’ve written about before, just to be able to vent about it.

You might ask, what is the reason for being nice? Well, do you want to be that candidate running a negative campaign?  It’s a cheap shot, and one not worth taking. Community building is what we should all be doing, however tempting it might be to carve out an easy win.  

 


Jewish Teens Need Us to Work as a Team

English: Students cheer their team on Sports DayI have resisted writing about the following for some time. But I can always tell when I’ve reached my own ‘tipping point’: it’s usually when I get tired of hearing myself repeat the same thing over and over to different people.

Secretly, I hope they’ll do something about what I’m telling them, but that hasn’t happened yet.  So, here I am, blogging to you. At least you can listen and perhaps share my frustration, and who knows? Maybe things will change.

First, we need to cooperate more. We are not working as a team on behalf of our teens.  I’ll define a teen team player as anyone or any organization that has the teen’s best interest at heart for involvement in Jewish life. Period.

That team, the teen team, has a shortage of players which is why we’re losing the Jewish identity game.  Here are some reasons:

  • There is little to no list-sharing among providers of Jewish educational experiences, both formal and informal.  What about privacy you ask? Well, how many groups even ask if their teens might want to have their names shared with other teen non-profit groups (non-profit stressed due to obvious reasons). How many teens do you know that would not want to be with as many other Jewish teens as possible?
  • Since groups wish to maintain their “members” and teens’ time is limited, there is little collaboration among groups, fearing that teens might ‘defect’ if exposed to the other group. (I could have said ‘leave’ but I’m making a point here). This plays out among synagogues, youth groups, interest groups, educational providers, and camps. Yes, there are joint programs out there, but often they partner with  ‘their own’ of the same denomination. I have experienced too many anecdotes about this that would curl your ears, if your ears could, in fact curl.
  • So, the takeaway for teens, though not intended, is that “membership” dictates who is in your community. How’s that for teaching teens that the Jewish community is a fluid, open-networked concept?
  • The above mentioned groups feel no guilt about deciding destiny. So, for example, if a teen belongs to a movement-affiliated synagogue, the chances of finding out about other options are pretty limited. If a synagogue is affiliated with a movement, only that youth group and camp are promoted.
  • Synagogues often want their teens ‘on-site’ as if keeping them physically in one place assures commitment (it doesn’t). Those teens may end up defining Judaism very narrowly. In fact, they do just that when they get to college. How can Judaism be more relevant to them if their experience of it is primarily synagogue-based? I am not referring to those teens who seem to straddle multiple worlds, and who are natural networkers. And I’m also not saying that synagogue/youth group/movement camps are not a good thing, we know they are. I’m specifically talking about those teens, for whatever reasons, are the minimally engaged to begin with and not making those choices. What are the options for other Jewish connections that we’re giving them?
  • The above does not apply to broad-based efforts, like the Foundation for Jewish Camping, that make a point of going beyond those limitations in awarding grants by saying in effect: “we don’t care which camp or where, just pick one!” We should all be taking that cue regarding Jewish youth involvement: we don’t care which program or where, just do something!
  • How about other open groups you ask? What about groups like teen philanthropy, teen fellowships, gender-based groups? Those are defining Judaism more broadly, but are there bridges to other programs which could increase identity building? Many times, those connections are left for each teenager to figure out. The connections must work both ways: to and from other organizations and synagogues.
  • How are we doing those teens a favor? Shouldn’t we be giving them a better sense of Jewish communal collaboration before they get to college? How can we, as a Jewish community, talk about pluralism and Klal Yisrael when we don’t really act that way ourselves. Could it be that we are modeling the very behavior they can’t relate to? Is this close-mindedness a contributing cause for the fact that most college students see no need to affiliate denominationally in college? I’m not saying that youth movements don’t work as leadership preparation for the future. I’m saying that we need to rethink our strategies and behave in ways that model collaboration or cooperation. We can’t be on the teen team if our organizations are based on a scarcity model.  

We have to decide if we are playing on an organization’s team or the teen’s team. If we’re on the same team, then we need a shared mission of youth leadership.

We’re in need of players for the teen team if we want to win this.  It’s like we’re in the 9th inning, with no runners on base. Will you step up?

I’d love to hear about collaborative models that defy these descriptions. I’ll post and share your responses so we can learn from each other.

Image via Wikipedia


My Experience with In-the-Box Thinking in the Jewish Community

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I read the article “Employees are faster and more creative when solving other people’s problems” by Daniel Pink with fascination. It turns out that we think more creatively and abstractly for others than for ourselves.  

The solutions are more concrete when working on things that affect us personally. 

What does this have to do with Jewish education?

Plenty,  it turns out. I’d like to share just two experiences with you:

1. Recently, a group of four synagogues wanted to brainstorm solutions for their Hebrew schools’ declining enrollment.  Among them, there are about 30 students in the 6th grade (daled) class.  The brief summary is that after several meetings they were unable to generate any alternatives. Why? Because each one did not want students to go to another location.   While discussions are still taking place, they did  agree to joint programming several times a year (locations to be determined).

2. Two synagogues down the road from each other recently joined efforts to create a ‘collaborative’ Hebrew High school, which sounds like a very good solution.  Because each one did not want students to ‘leave the building’ they alternate locations every six months.  The programming definitely seems creative.  At the outset this seems  like a terrific compromise between two ‘competing’ synagogues.  Except for the fact that less than 500 yards down the road sits a Jewish community high school. The school was never brought into the conversation, and the conversations leading to this change were facilitated by the community’s Jewish education agency.

Based on the study Pink quotes, he recommends disassociating ourselves from the problem when trying to solve it.  How would this work in the Jewish community?  How would the scenarios above play out differently? What if we could really think creatively?


Non-Day School Jewish Teens: Orphans in the Field?

photo courtesy of ePublicist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almost every day I experience a huge disconnect between my reality and the world of foundations and philanthropy.  

I would like someone to take note that the Jewish community consists of more stakeholders than students at  Jewish day schools and summer camps. 

 I am not always in the mood to respond, but I have to, because I believe that I’m speaking for those who are not speaking for themselves: Jewish teens who are not attending day schools.   

Really, do any teens, let alone Jewish teens, need someone to speak out on their behalf? Since when are teens quiet? On the contrary,  teens are usually outspoken and full of comments about everything

But it’s not their job to keep up with the Jewish educational world, it’s mine.  So, I apologize if this post seems redundant and quite similar to things you’ve read before.  I am not dropping this issue, even if it means no one will read about it any more.

I do need to advocate for the thousands of Jewish teens out there that are not currently enrolled in day school.  I think day schools are a fine option for those families who have made that choice.  As Jewish educators we generally believe in the ‘more is better’ axiom. 

But for those teens who have opted for a different educational setting, there is little attention/money/support paid to them.

This is how my online experience usually goes: I might get a Google Alert. Or I read about a new program/initiative/study/ that is usually directed toward day school students/Jewish camps/Israel trips. 

For example, today I read about a great program, supported the Legacy Heritage Fund Limited, that along with Yeshiva University, places young and innovative teachers in day schools and mentors them for a few years with workshops, additional training opportunities, and other support systems. 

This is a great idea, no?  Who would say that such a thing is not necessary?  It is what the Jewish community should be doing to support young and motivated educators so that they stay connected to the Jewish community and act as role models for those yet in school.

Okay, so here is how I see it:  there are thousands of students in supplementary Jewish high schools, and many who graduate in twelfth grade are teaching in those same schools when they get to college.  The harsh reality, is that most receive very little support and/or mentoring.  Often, they leave after just a few years, burnt out and never to return. 

These are often the best, brightest, and most Jewishly committed students who may have held regional board positions in their youth groups, may have chosen to attend Jewish camps for the summer, and may have been on several Israel trips.  Their downfall is that they haven’t attended a Jewish day school. 

Sometimes I get tired of sounding  the same note in an unbroken melody post after post.  One thing hasn’t changed: the number of American Jewish students attending Jewish day schools outside the ultra-Orthodox community has barely budged, yet the Jewish community has not re-oriented itself. This has been reported in numerous places.  Even Michael Steinhardt was quoted as saying that the lack of growth in the day school population is “sad, sad, sad.”

So, what do I want? I want these Jewishly committed teens to get the attention they deserve. Do we really think we’re building community by not paying attention to these ‘orphans’ in the Jewish educational field?

 

How Jewish Youth Go About Repairing the World

A report came out recently detailing the volunteer activities of Jewish young adults.  Some interesting facts emerge:

The good news  is that a large percentage of these young adults are participating in community work at a rate of  up to 86% depending on denominational and identity factors.  Also, over three-quarters of them are involved in civic activity. 

The bad news? Most of the volunteering takes place infrequently and is episodic.

Though the population examined is “young adults” my own experience with teens mirror these two findings.  So many students have told me about their “mitzvah project” in the year leading up to and including the Bar/Bat mitzvah year. 

They see  the experience as an obligatory ‘check off’ on the list of tasks they need to accomplish and perhaps talk about from the podium.  A small minority might even get local press about their efforts.  Few, if any, continue the practice beyond the mandated time. 

I don’t disagree with the idea that service is a value to be pursued, but if we desire different results, we need to examine the process of how we engage these young teens.  It may be that the launch of these volunteer projects in tandem with this Jewish rite of passage feels a bit forced. 

It is interesting to note that according to the survey, young Jewish adults don’t even know about volunteer opportunities in the Jewish community, and feel that Jewish organizations do not address the causes that are most relevant for them.  Wow.  In addition, it seems that Jewish values are not the prime motivators for their decisions, but rather universal values are.  This is not a bad thing, but if Jewish identification is what we’re after when we pitch  doing ‘mitzvahs’, then we are missing a big opportunity.


“The Truth About Youth”: What we can Learn

The world in mosaic tiles, courtesy of Genista.

I recently visited a blog on manufacturing (not my usual topic for browsing) because it featured information on a study of 7000 teens worldwide conducted by the McCann Worldgroup, a leading global marketing communications company. 

I was immediately intrigued.  Wow, this organization (even if for marketing and branding purposes) decided to put a whole lot of effort into surveying teens and the importance they place on values. 

This study, called “The Truth About Youth”  by one of the world’s largest marketing communications networks, is easy reading at 20 pages, and you may want to check it out.  Granted, missing for me are more details: how the survey was conducted, a copy of the survey measure, how respondents were contacted, age/country breakdown and more, but after all, this was a marketing study not research for a dissertation.  I’ll take what information I can get. 

In this post, I’ll comment about only a few of the findings.  One: “We’ve seen the emergence of a generation with fundamental commonalities that transcend borders.  The same three motivations are ranked highly in every country (emphasis mine):

Commune: the need for connection, relationships and community

Justice: the need for social and personal justice, to do what’s right, to be an activist

Authenticity: the need to see things as they are.”  p.3

For non-profit groups working with teens, this information is affirming.  Teens need to connect to a larger purpose across multiple levels, and we need to be upfront and honest in our dealings with them and with the information they receive.  In a non-profit educational environment, we are not only providing a service, but our youth really need us to reach out and offer them opportunities to connect in these meaningful ways. 

I’d like to hear your responses, and what programs might respond to these needs.


Jewish Programs that Miss the Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last month a new blog  from the Mandel Center for Jewish studies at Brandeis University said  that ” Some of the most talented, passionate and deeply knowledgeable members of the Jewish community do not have the opportunity to share their passions and knowledge.  We have not linked the silos, smoothing the path for young Jews from our schools or synagogues to find  Jewish studies experiences when they arrive in college.”(italics mine).

The irony here, is that there are so many silos to be linked! The author was talking about academicians connecting with college students and announced a new program to meet that need.  It sure sounds like a great idea, but why stop there?  When thinking about silos within the Jewish community, the list is so much more extensive.  Specifically, the lack of programming for entering college students is gargantuan.  Is there a way to be pro-active and link those silos before students actually get to campus?

We need to create programs that connect college students to the greater Jewish community before (or when) they arrive in their college town. What about developing mentorship programs for Jewish studies majors who are interested in working in the Jewish community?  How about creating support systems for the hundreds of college students working in synagogues as teachers and youth group advisors?  Shouldn’t this be a priority? 

We need to develop an internet-internship hub for students majoring in business, marketing, and non-profit management ( a partial list of relevant majors) so motivated students can find placements in Jewish organizations.

Briefly, we need to worry about the big picture and not just one remedy–and more than just linking silos, we need to craft a web of connectedness.

We should be planning out an entire meal instead of focusing on the appetizers.  As  Jewish non-profit organizations we often take an a la carte approach to issues, hoping that a ‘quick fix’ will suffice. Since non-profits can’t get funding for what we really need (the whole meal) we try to get by with discrete programs (appetizers) and hope that will satiate the hunger.  

A co-worker of mine says “We’re not that rich to be so cheap!”  when frugal solutions are used instead of  a more costly but durable option.  Patchwork programs work in similar ways, tricking us into thinking the problem is solved.

So, why be content with tapas tastings? Because for the moment, it stays the hunger–which makes us feel a lot better.

But really, we’ve missed the mark.

 


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