“If you have students reaching out to other students to get them involved in Jewish life, and when an educator is paired with them, they end up having more Jewish friends than your average student,” said Abi Dauber-Sterne, the vice president for “Jewish experiences.”Summer camp is also effective at building Jewish bonds.
Rabbi Isaac Saposnik leads a camp for Reconstructionist Jews, who are part of a newer, progressive movement to reconnect with certain Jewish rituals while remaining modern.
“But our interpersonal relationships are colored by our Judaism, and our dating and marriage decisions are equally Jewish decisions.”On the opposite end of the spectrum of observance, a Reform organization, the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), seems to take a similar tack, especially in response to frequent questions from donors and congregants about intermarriage trends.
“Our response to [concerns about] intermarriage is less to have conversations about dating—we want to have larger conversations about what it means to be Jewish,” said the director of youth engagement, Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, who estimated that NFTY serves about 17,700 Jewish students each year.
“It was astonishing for us to realize that the difference is such a huge difference.”It’s hard to measure the success of any of these programs definitively.
There’s certainly some self-selection bias at work.
If the same question had been asked about any other aspect of our shared identities–being white, being educated, coming from middle or upper-middle class backgrounds—it would have seemed impolite, if not offensive.
In every denomination, the leaders I talked with are thinking intentionally about how to strengthen the sense of connection among teenaged Jews.“There’s no question that one of the purposes of the organization is to keep Jewish social circles together at this age,” said Matt Grossman, the executive director of the non-denominational organization BBYO, which serves about 39,000 American students each year.“If they’re in an environment where their closest friends are Jewish, the likelihood that they’re going to end up dating people from those social circles, and ultimately marry someone from those social circles, increases dramatically,” Grossman said.
Organizations like Hillel, a non-denominational campus outreach organization, have gathered data on the most efficient ways of encouraging these friendships.
the biggest bang for your buck.”For the most part, organizations have seen a remarkable “bang.” Rabbi Greenland reported that of the NCSY alumni who married, 98 percent married a Jew.
According to a 2011 survey BBYO took of its alumni, 84 percent are married to a Jewish spouse or living with a Jewish partner. One of the most effective incubators of Jewish marriage is Birthright Israel, a non-profit organization that gives grants to organizations to lead 18- to 26-year-old Jews on a free, 10-day trip to Israel.