Jewish Identity of Teens

Why is this Important?

Study after study proves that when young people are involved in meaningful Jewish experiences during their teenage years, they are much more likely to be active, lifelong members of the Jewish community. They participate in Jewish life, take on Jewish professional and lay leadership roles, and build a strong connection with Israel and the global Jewish people. What’s more, they often directly credit the organizations and programs they participated in as teens for shaping their Jewish journeys throughout adulthood. Teens are often known as a difficult cohort to reach and engage as they generally do not like to join organized activities. In spite of this, it is important for communities to persist in order to take advantage of the potential presented in successful engagement of this age group.

What are the trends?

In 2015-2016, 1,775 Jewish teens participated in a meeting, program or event during the school year. This represents a 4% pt. increase from the previous year for the five youth identity programs reporting data for both years**. Twenty youth are invited to participate in UJA’s Diller Teen Fellowship Program each year, ever since the program’s pilot year that included 10 Fellows.1

Between 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, participation in the Teen March of the Living program declined by 19%. This is a large decrease for a single year. It will be important to monitor this trend over time to see whether this reflects a normal year to year fluctuation in the size of a particular age cohort or a longer-term decline in participation for this important program.

What’s new?

There are several new teen engagement programs that have emerged recently and show significant promise. The newly created Jewish Teen Board of Greater Toronto by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto provides thirty high school aged board members an opportunity to learn about the philosophy and practice of the Jewish values of Tikkun Olam and Tzedakah.

How are we doing?

Considering the importance of engaging young people during this formative period of their lives, a 10% or 11% participation rate in Jewish identity programs represents a significant challenge to the community. It is likely that new programs and greater community investments in this area are needed to significantly increase the current participation rate.

UJA’s Diller Teen Fellowship program appears to be highly successful. There are 68 alumni from four program cohorts. They are regularly involved in their Jewish community, including school, summer camp, university campus programs (such as Hillel, Jewish Students Associations, etc), synagogues, youth groups, and Diller alumni programming.

[1] The Diller Teen Fellowship is a 15 months-long leadership development program that culminates in service opportunities within Toronto and Israel.