Teens offered a wealth of post-bnai mitzvah education

There's a commonly held belief, and some statistics may prove it to be true, that once children become men or women upon their b'nai mitzvah, that is often the last deeply Jewish thing they do.

After a student's transition to Jewish adulthood, many rabbis and educators see them go off in non-Jewish directions and let their Jewish educations fall by the wayside.

Luckily for many teens — and their parents — who feel their Jewish education has just begun, the Bay Area is rife with unconventional programs to immerse a student in Jewish culture and understanding.

The Ti-ke-a Fellowship program, run out of the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education but serving teens throughout the Bay Area, is gearing up to launch 13 new ideas for local teen education. The program is also a project of the Center for Jewish Living and Learning of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay.

Ti-ke-a Director Toby Rubin said the fellows are fine-tuning their proposals for the 13 education programs, but they are all geared toward enhancing the teens' Jewish identity.

A sampling of Ti-ke-a projects include:

*Working with a population of disabled individuals, through the BBYO (B'nai B'rith Youth Organization). Teens will get a service-learning experience and develop and understanding of "what the big Jewish ideas are that relate to community involvement, tolerance and understanding," Rubin said. Contact Jare Akchin at (650) 627-8560.

*"Fast Foverts," a project to engage teens with Yiddish culture. Taught by Jewlia Eisenberg at Oakland Midrasha, the program will enable teens to go to New York in the summer with a final project probably involving interviewing and filming people in the Yiddish world. Contact Eisenberg at (510) 444-6744.

*A youth lounge at Temple Sinai in Oakland developed by Phil Hankin and aimed at seventh- and eighth-graders for youth development. Contact Hankin at (510) 451-0313, ext. 235.

*A parent-teen Israel experience sometime around Thanksgiving, which will provide not only a family educational experience but it will encourage teen travel to Israel in the summer. Contact Mara Kassoff at (415) 731-3357.

*A program for b'nai mitzvah teens at Coastside Jewish Community in El Granada, near Pacifica, that will increase the teens' knowledge of Torah, tefillah and tikkun olam. It will include retreats and workshops for the teens and their parents. Contact Stephanie Levin at (510) 845-7793.

*A class at Congregation Beth David in Saratoga called "Shalom Y'all," which is a look at Jews in the civil rights movement. After the class the participants will travel to the South to partner up with the local Jewish community and visit historical sites that they have learned about in their class. Contact Sharon Pap at (831) 460-0478.

*Exploring intolerance and prejudice within the teen population. Led by Gabe Salgado, the program will take place at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette and will provide a number of field trip experiences possibly to New York, Los Angeles and around the Bay Area. Contact Salgado at (925) 284-9191.

*A program called "Connections," which will connect college students at Sonoma State and Santa Rosa City College with high school seniors. The students will work together in understanding the opportunities and challenges of being Jewish on a college campus today and how to connect with Jews on any campus they go to. There will be a retreat, mentorship and workshops. Contact Anna Tsukinov, Sonoma County Hillel director, at (707) 526-5581.

The Hebrew word tikea literally means "blast," and teens will be sure to have a blast participating in any of these programs. The programs receive funding from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund.

The Havurah programs on the Peninsula and in San Francisco are also introducing new programs for the upcoming school year.

Mark Lazar, director of the BJE-run Peninsula Havurah High and San Francisco Havurah, said the program is adding "a new packaging of concepts."

One is called "Spiritual Quarter," in which students can spent 15 minutes with peers or rabbis exploring spirituality.

Café Havurah is another addition that will take place before and after the program. In a cafe-type atmosphere, Lazar said, students can socialize and listen to music and hang out. On the Peninsula the cafe starts an hour before classes and continues for a half-hour between the two sessions. In San Francisco, it begins a half-hour before the sessions and continues between and after the sessions.

Havurah will also introduce the "Open University" program several times during the year. Lazar describes it as a "potpourri of courses for student interests." Students will sign up for the one-time alternative classes, which will include topics such as bibliodrama, cooking and creative arts.

Also new this year is a virtual trip to Israel, which Lazar hopes will lay the foundation for future travel to Israel and let the students know there are different ways to go to the Jewish state. An Israeli tour guide will teach the class using music, slides, video, journaling and relaxation to virtually transport the students.

But what Havurah is really stressing is relevancy, Lazar said. "If it doesn't have something to do with their lives right now, in some ways I feel it's a waste," he said. "They have to walk away feeling stimulated by an idea, have something to wrestle with."

Teens in the East Bay are served by the Midrasha program. Under the aegis of the CJLL, Midrasha acts as an educational cooperative for area congregations. This year it's offering a new program on the American Jewish experience.

The curriculum, which is for 11th- and 12th-graders, will cover the Jews' experience in America from when they arrived and how the culture flourished while retaining some Old World values.

"Before [the curriculum] was very historical," said Jonathan Emanuel, the director of the East Bay federation's teen services. "We wanted to have a way to have the kids find themselves within the Jewish American experience.

"We're really trying to find things that will grip them and bring in other angles."

Midrasha is also focusing on leadership. Its ninth-grade program, Etgar, starts out as a mentoring program by 11th-graders for the ninth-graders, so the younger students learn facilitation skills, how to create programs and run retreats.

There are more than 1,000 teens involved in Midrasha, and Emanuel said the teens love participating in the program.

"It's a wonderful community for them and an opportunity for them to get involved," he said.

Shoshana Hebshi
Shoshana Hebshi

Shoshana Hebshi is a freelance writer and former J. copy editor living in the North Bay.