Livnot Kesher Teen Interview Results – Year Two
On December 15, 2001, Livnot Kesher began interviews with teens from three lists, totaling 108 names, provided by Temple Beth Ami (Rockville, MD), Congregation B’nai Tzedek (Potomac, MD) and B’nai Shalom of Olney (Olney, MD). By May 5, 2002, 47 interviews had been held with 13 teens from B’nai Shalom of Olney, 19 teens from Congregation B’nai Tzedek, and 15 teens from Temple Beth Ami. The majority of the interviews were held at the home of the teen, while some were completed at Starbuck’s or the teens’ synagogue, and a few were completed over the phone and with a survey. During most interviews, the Livnot Kesher Project Coordinator had the opportunity to speak with parents as well as teens. The tone of the interviews was one of openness, interest, and confidentiality. Teens were asked questions regarding their subjects studied in school, current interests, involvement in Jewish organizations, camps, etc., reasons why they had chosen to do the activities in which they are currently involved, and things that would make them more interested in “doing Jewish”.
Of the 108 names on the lists given by the three congregations, B’nai Shalom of Olney gave 29 names, Congregation B’nai Tzedek gave 23 names, and Temple Beth Ami gave 56 names.
Following is the status of the remaining 61 teens on the lists who were not interviewed:
· 17 were contacted but not interviewed because the Project Coordinator learned that they were involved in B’nai Brith Youth Organization or religious school at another synagogue. Further, during interviews, it was discovered that 4 teens (8.51%) are involved in a youth group or religious school program outside of their congregations.
· 1 was removed because she had already been interviewed last year.
· 2 were not contacted because their contact information was unavailable.
· 22 teens were called three or more times and the professional could not reach them.
· 12 teens were contacted and declined interviews.
· 2 teens scheduled appointments to meet the Livnot Kesher Project Coordinator and subsequently cancelled or were not home for their interviews. Follow-up phone calls were made but they were unable to schedule another meeting.
· 3 were reached by phone and after numerous emails and phone calls, could not schedule a meeting with the Livnot Kesher Project Coordinator. Questionnaires were mailed out, but after follow-up phone calls were not returned.
Of 47 Interviews held before 5/5/02:
25 – 53.1% 22 – 46.8%
8th Graders 9th Graders
12 – 25.5% 28- 59.5%
10th Graders 11th and 12th Graders
3 – 6.38% 4 – 8.51%
Students in Public School
42 – 89.3%
Students in Private School
5 - 10.6%
YOUTH GROUP INVOLVEMENT
Attended a Congregational Youth Group Event & Decided Not to Go Back
11 – 23.4%
Participated in and Currently Considering Joining a Youth Group Outside the Congregation
3 – 6.38%
AZA 2 – 4.25% BBG 1 – 2.12%
Participate in Activities in the Jewish Community
(Activities mentioned include JCC Teen events, BSO Teens Rock Variety Show, Maccabi Sports, volunteering at nursery schools, CIT programs, and summer camps)
Total Teens Involved In Youth Programs Outside of their Congregation’s Youth Group
(Volunteering for aliyot in synagogue and assisting with Junior Congregation services)
JEWISH SUMMER CAMP INVOLVEMENT
5 – 10.6%
Capital Camps –1 Moshava - 1 Camp Louise – 1
Camp Airy – 1 Summit Camp – 1
RELIGIOUS SCHOOL INVOLVEMENT
What made you decide not to continue with the religious school program at ________(Beth Ami, BSO, B’nai Tzedek)?
Not enough time
Did not like curriculum
My friends weren’t doing it
Other activities, (sports, school, clubs, etc.) took precedence
Bad experiences in religious school made me decide not to return
Teachers seemed poorly trained
Hard to make friends/ students were “cliquey”
Tried it for a while and felt like it was “a waste of time”
Felt like I was “finished” after my bar/bat mitzvah
Older sibling tried it and said it “would be a waste of time”
Personal special needs were not met by teachers
What made you decide not to join the youth group at ____________ (Beth Ami, BSO, B’nai Tzedek)?
No friends there (too cliquey, feel older/younger than the rest)
No particular reason
Conflicts with other activities
Friends aren’t participating
Haven’t received information
Personal special needs not met by chapter
What would make you more interested in being involved in your congregation’s religious school or youth programs?
· Many teens expressed interest in learning about subjects in which they are interested. Common subject interests include Israeli History, Modern Jewish History, the Holocaust, and Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Several teens expressed the question “Why have Jews always suffered?”
· Several teens voiced desire for unique Religious School programming to address their interests in Kabbalah and their doubt in the existence of G-d.
· Teens also recommended making Religious School more interactive through group-work assignments and discussions.
· Quite a few teens expressed that their growing frustration with the level of decorum in classrooms led them to leave religious school.
· Students mentioned that continuing to learn about tzedakah and tikkun olam is “juvenile”, and they would prefer to study more mature subjects after their B’nai Mitzvah.
· Teens would like to be encouraged to bring a friend to events.
· Many said the youth groups should provide members with activities they couldn’t do on their own (e.g. trips, good tickets to sporting events and concerts, etc.)
· Several have not attended events because they have not been informed of what activities are being done.
· Synagogues should tailor their youth programming more towards the needs and interests of their teens.
What They’re Doing in the Meantime
Hanging out with friends
Teens who have been to Israel:
B’nai Tzedek 9 42.8%
B’nai Shalom of Olney 0 0%
Temple Beth Ami 2 13%
Teens Who Want to go to Israel for a First Time:
B’nai Tzedek 0 0%
B’nai Shalom of Olney 9 69%
Temple Beth Ami 6 40%
Total Percentage of Teens Who Want to go to Israel for a First Time:
· It is challenging to connect with teenagers through a blind phone call. Several different tactics were tested and used in order to convince teens to agree to an interview. In general, they were happy to have a chance to share their thoughts and ideas once they met with the Livnot Kesher professional in person, but it was challenging to gain their trust and interest initially over the telephone. Further, many teens could not find the time in their busy schedules to commit to an interview. Several were willing to be interviewed, but after many attempts to schedule a meeting found that they were unable to commit to a meeting.
· Many of the teens interviewed were involved in multiple sports, sometimes two per season, and had no time for anything else. Likewise, the teens interviewed who were involved in youth groups outside of their congregations spent so much time with their youth group that they were active in nothing else outside of school.
· A significant number of teens have not continued with religious school or participated in youth group activities because their friends aren’t involved, or they don’t know any other students involved. Many students were frustrated by behavior problems in the classroom. They felt that bad behavior exhibited by other students was distracting, and that their teachers paid more attention to these students than the ones who wanted to learn.
· While many of the teens interviewed are not involved in Jewish activities, they participate in Jewish life at home. All shared that they celebrate Jewish holidays with their families and by going to synagogue, and many said that they observe Shabbat in some way, keep Kosher, and have Jewish conversations with their families.
· Most teenagers had trouble comprehending that they could “do Jewish” without going to religious school.
· In addressing the challenge of retaining teens in Religious School when their friends are not continuing, it would benefit the congregations to make more of an effort to create a sense of community among the students through ice-breakers or other social activities.
· Congregations should begin to or continue to educate their teens about the many ways to continue to “do Jewish” after B’nai Mitzvah.
· The teens gave startling responses when asked what subject matter interests them about Judaism. The overwhelming desire to learn about the topics mentioned above leads Livnot Kesher to believe that it has been brought about due to current events. It is recommended that Religious School principals, Rabbis, and Youth Directors meet to discuss the implications of this data. Currently, our community’s teens are being faced with questions and criticisms not previously imagined. It is crucial that synagogues create educational settings through which to address the pressing needs of their teens in light of recent events.
· Many teens chose to discontinue with Religious School due to a bad experience in the classroom or their opinion that the teachers were “poorly trained”. Livnot Kesher suggests that Religious Schools expand their teacher trainings to include sensitivity training for children with special learning needs. In addition, teacher training should be modified to address the challenges mentioned in the charts above.
· As the interview data obtained is extremely beneficial to the engagement process, the maximum amount of teens should be interviewed in order for this pilot to be effective. Statistics show that while the Livnot Kesher Project Coordinator was able to interview 33% of the teens on her lists, B’nai Tzedek’s engagement professional was able to meet with over 80% of the teens on her list. Possible reasons for this dramatic difference is that synagogue engagement professional already had an established relationship with these teens, while the Livnot Kesher professional made “blind” phone calls to teens with whom she had no relationship. Therefore, it would be most beneficial for synagogues to have an in-house professional who can schedule these interviews.
 These five teens were the only ones out of 47 who are of post-confirmation age.
 53 reasons were given from 47 teens; several teens had more than one reason for discontinuing with religious school.
 Most teens expressed having more than one interest.