The Future of the Jewish Teen

Much has been discussed in the recent year since the Pew Poll was released, depicting a disturbing trend of Judaism in America. Amidst the hand-wringing and the accusations from different organizations and affiliations, there has been no real response or solution to the ever-growing problem in these United States. Lack of affiliation and apathy seems to have run amok and we don’t know how to stop it.

On a political level, we seem to see the most bizarre of election seasons, at least in my adult life, happening right under our very noses. Frustration, anger at the system, and bucking of the status quo in both major political parties seems to be the slogan of the day. Again, the hand-wringing, accusations, and failure to figure out what really to do about it all.

I believe there is a connection between the two. Young people need to be involved, engaged and inspired in order to be active.

The most difficult demographic to engage, and reach out to on a religious and social level are our teens. Teenagers can be indifferent, unwilling to cooperate, and quite frankly more interested in sleeping and eating large amounts of food, than having a productive and deep spiritual discussion. Past the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations, engaging them makes a root canal an easy experience. While having Sweetheart and Beau dances and trying to focus on external and immaterial things may work a bit, it surely does not address the deep and important spiritual crisis we are facing with young Jews.

So the question remains, how do we engage this most important demographic, the future leaders of the Jewish people if they are uninterested and not willing to engage.

The answer is the C-Teen Network.

Founded just seven years ago as an organization to get teens more involved and engaged in Judaism, it has quickly grown and morphed into a mega-grassroots club with more than 2,000 members of dynamic, engaged, and excited teens. I have the privilege of directing the San Antonio chapter of this organization and have been part of it for the last two years. We have grown locally from 10 kids to 75, in a small Jewish community.

This past weekend, I attended the C-Teen International Shabbaton in New York City with sixteen kids of my local chapter in San Antonio, Texas. As one of the older group leaders who has been involved in youth education for more than 20 years, I can say with confidence that the Jewish people will be alright.They (C-Teen) understand the dilemma and have a solution to the problem.

Two-thousand plus Jewish kids, excited, engaged and dedicated to do more mitzvot and live more Jewishly is something more impact-full perhaps than the Super Tuesday and Super Saturday caucuses, as far as I’m concerned. The sheer pride and excitement of being Jewish, coupled with a passion and commitment to do more and commit to really living Jewishly, is a breath of fresh air that is so much needed.

At our round-circle discussion, sitting on the floor in La Guardia Airport awaiting our plane back home, each participant spoke of their experience and how they pledge to live more Jewishly, do more mitzvot, get as many teens involved as possible, and yes, marry Jewish.

C-Teen does not have hundreds of “professional outreach” workers, political consultants or VIP offices with plush couches. It doesn’t not have a staggering budget of millions and millions spent on focus groups , or fact-finding trips to decide what will appeal to today’s teens. What it does refreshingly have is truly engaged and committed staff who are completely and selflessly engaged to the core of their beings.

It has authentic Yiddishkeit (Judaism) brought to teens with love, joy and unabashed Jewish pride. And the kids have gone gaga, thirstily taking it in. I, meanwhile, watched this with tears of gratitude in my eyes.

In case you’re wondering what Jewish teens need today? Forget the fancy flyers, black-tie dance balls, and save the habitats projects. These are nice things and kids will certainly enjoy them.

Give them unabashed authentic Judaism with an extra grande triple shot of “Gaon Yakov” Jewish pride, and we have a bright Jewish tomorrow.

L’Chaim to C-Teen; there is a bright future.

About the Author
Yossi Marrus resides in San Antonio, Texas with his wife and six children where he has been active in the rabbinic and educational field for the last twenty years.
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