It’s a vicious cycle.
Every month, college graduates return to North America from free trips to Israel on a “spiritual high.” They are proud of their heritage, interested in maintaining their new Jewish friendships and inspired to give back to their communities. But one always comes down from a high, and it is only a matter of time before the connections with their new friends become tenuous and the desire to give back fades.
It’s sad but not surprising. As a college graduate, life – which may include a set routine and a full time job – gets in the way.
To be fair, we deal with this just about every day in the business world. We return from meetings and conferences feeling inspired and ready to implement new strategies and ideas but quickly abandon all plans for changing course. While it is always possible to try something new, it is not without a struggle, and we don’t often have the time, energy or patience required to struggle. It is usually just easier to fall back into routine.
Unlike adults, teenagers are incredibly adaptable to new routines. Because they are still developing, they are in the perfect position to adopt and develop positive lifelong habits.
In 2012, DoSomething.Org conducted a comprehensive survey on teenage volunteerism. They found that teenagers are an untapped resource for social change because they are creative, passionate and have the time to give back to their communities.
The trick, of course, is harnessing that power while we have the chance.
As children grow, the influence of their friends becomes stronger. In fact, young adults become four times more reliant on the opinions of their peers once they enter university. In many cases, future stars will suppress their talents and desire to make a difference just to fit in.
As such, it is our responsibility to provide our teens with the right tools to become future leaders while they are still young.
Lapid, the coalition of high school age programs in Israel, was founded in 2008 to lobby for and help facilitate the development of educational programming in Israel for teens. A major focus for the coalition is the promotion of social activism, an activity that is crucial during the teenage years, the period of identity formation and value clarification.
It’s a simple formula really: Expose teens to the “real Israel” (and let them fall in love with it on their own terms), give them the tools to shape their own Jewish destinies, and set them on the course towards social activism and great things will happen.
Following high school age programming in Israel, teens return home to their synagogues, youth groups, camps and schools energized and resolved to act as strong advocates on behalf of the Jewish State and the Jewish people. In this way, studying abroad becomes a journey of true self-transformation and a primer for social change.
So, it’s up to us to stop the vicious cycle and promote a new norm for Israel programming.
Instead of pushing off Israel experiences until after university, when life will get in the way, parents should encourage an earlier encounter. Teenagers on a longer, more immersive educational program will be able to connect with their Jewish identities and hone their skills to become the individuals they want to be, as well as the Jewish leaders we need them to be.
And don’t forget: when teens strengthen their love and commitment to Israel and the Jewish people early in life, it will only bolster the standing of Israel on university campuses. The formal and informal education of teen programming promotes a culture of volunteerism and social commitment that empowers the next generation of Jewish leadership while uprooting apathy. As such, teens will arrive on campus ready to roll up their sleeves and get involved in Jewish life and Israel advocacy.
We often underestimate teens. They have the time, creativity and passion required to connect with their communities and share their inspiration. They are a treasure to their communities and the key to the Jewish future. If we want the next generation to be strong Jewish leaders and advocates for Israel, it is essential that we begin the transformation during their formative years, before “life” has any say in the matter.