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June 29, 2012

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 29, 2012 PAGE 19A URJ From page 4A Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the newly installed president of the URJ, and his efforts to reverse the trend of young people ending their Jewish education after their big day on the bima. While Reform remains the largest of the denominations in America, the movement is aging and shrinking. Engag- ing and retaining youth has become a top priority. IsaAron, a professor of Jew- ish education at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles and co-director of the Bnai Mitzvah Revolu- tion, says that the synagogue movements have themselves to blame for this sorry situ- ation. In an effort to bolster Hebrew school attendance in the 1930s and '40s, she says, congregations from the various movements agreed to require three years of at- tendance by students leading to a bar or bat mitzvah, as well as an ability to read the prayers in Hebrew and follow the adult service. Enrollment in Hebrew schools increased from 30 percent to 53 percent by the 1960s, but the unintended consequence was that in linking bar or bat mitzvah to formal Jewish education, students dropped out of Jew- ish education immediately after the milestone event, and many families ended their synagogue affiliation. The goal of the new project is to create more engaging ways to mark a bar or bat mitzvah for the youngster and his or her family, teach Hebrew as a living language and add a spiritual component to learning prayers. The first phase of the two- year pilot program will bring together a select group of up to 15 congregations from around the country. Representatives from each will meet with professionals, and together they will document the kinds of b'nai mitzvah ceremonies taking place today and dis- cuss how to not just improve the model but revamp radi- cally the existing culture. That means everything involved in the ritual is up for discussion, with no sacred cows. "We are looking for sys- temic change," says Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, who became director of youth engagement for URJ in January and is co-directing the project with Aron. "We want to make the rite more meaningful and more community-oriented," he says, without diminishing the child's personal sense of accomplishment. The URJ's new project is hardly the first effort to make the bar/bat mitzvah more meaningful and less of a graduation ceremony. Secu- lar Jewish congregations and Workmen's Circle programs have for many years had their bar/bat mitzvah students embark on a personal Jewish learning project as an alterna- tive to mastering trope. In the past decade, more than 50 congregations have worked with UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Ed- ucation Project to make their congregational schools, and in turn the bar/bat mitzvah preparation, more innovative and engaging. Two years ago the theater troupe, Storahtell- ing, launched Raising the Bar, a program in which students develop a creative theatrical interpretation of their Torah portion. Meanwhile several programs, such as Yerusha in Princeton, N.J and the Jewish Journey Project, which launches in Manhattan this fall, have participants earn badges based on their indi- vidual Jewish interests. Change The Perception Aron and Solmsen know this "systematic change" will not be easy to bring about. Congregations are reluctant to change the status quo, which in recent years has evolved to include the young- ster reading Torah and Hafto- rah, offering a dvar Torah talk and performing some type of mitzvah project. The main point is to change the perception that bar and bat mitzvah celebrations are graduation ceremonies. Rabbi TomWeiner, spiritual leader of Temple Kol Ami, a congregation of about 800 households in White Plains, says he is ready to sign up for the pilot program. "I think we do a good job," he said of the b'nai mitzvah ceremonies, "but we suffer from our own success." He described the tension between making the big day special for the youngster and incorpo- rating a sense of appropriate modesty, driving home the message that "you don't get the gold watch on the first day of work." Rabbi Weiner said about 40 percent of the congregation's b'nai mitzvah youngsters continue their Jewish educa- tion through high school, which is markedly better than average. But he acknowledged that families leaving the con- gregation after their child's ceremony is a major issue and "we have to work with that." He hopes the Bnai Mitz- vah Project will recommend changing the Jewish educa- tion focus from sixth grade, which he called "mid-game and too late,"to third or fourth grade, and to make post-bar and bat mitzvah education "exciting and meaningful." Rabbi Geller of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills says Simon Kuh's "merit badge" experiment was not the only attempt to change up the cer- emony in her congregation by tailoring it to the individual youngster's special interest. "Sometimes itworkswell," she said, mentioning that a deaf bat mitzvah girl's video of in- terviews with four successful deaf women was particularly moving. "And sometimes it doesn't." Simon Kuh's father, Pat- rick, a Los Angeles restaurant critic and convert to Juda- ism, is actively engaged in the congregation. He credits Rabbi Geller for being open to change, and listening to his wife's concerns and requests in making Simon's ceremony meaningful. "It was about a young person applying himself to something he may not want to do, which is good training for adulthood," he said, "and putting your heart into it. There was a real sense of ac- complishment. And for us as parents it was saying, 'we're proud of the person you're becoming, this is your tradi- tion, we hope you'll value it, and continue to learn, and that it will speak to you.'" That's the kind of takeaway the Bnai Mitzvah Revolution is seeking: one that resonates for the young man or young woman in a deep and lasting way, whether it involves Torah proficiency or commitment in another form. The new way of thinking raises challenges to the status quo in terms of synagogue participation, and traditional forms of education. But with the movement's top officials describing the dropout rate and lack of retention among bnai mitzvah as "staggering," they have declared it's time for a change before it's too late. Gary Rosenblatt is editor and publisher of The New York Jewish Week, fromwhich this article was reprinted by permission. You can email him at Kosher From page 5A better for health." Market research indi- cates that fully 62 percent of people who buy kosher foods do so for reasons of "quality" while 51 percent say they buy kosher for its "general healthfulness." A third buy kosher because they believe that kosher food safety standards are better than with traditional supermarket foods. Only 15 percent of respondents say they buy kosher food because of religious rules. "The kosher market," Menachem Lubinsky, Presi- dent and CEO of Lubicom Marketing and Consulting, corroborates, "is the ben- eficiary of a young, loyal, and thriving consumer who appreciates better foods that are kosher certified. Many of these consumers have larger families, spend more than the average customer on foods, entertain more, and are extremely open to creative new ideas in their kosher diets." The kosher food cat- egory is booming. Reports indicate that 50 percent of food on U.S. supermarket shelves is now kosher cer- tified. According to jpost. corn, "kosher" is the most popular food label in the United States, having sur- passed "All Natural" and "No Additives or Preservatives." Logging on to www., a website showcasing new kosher products, one finds that the kosher option has expanded to nearly every category, in- cluding vegetarian, gluten- free, dairy free, organic, wines, spirits and kosher "copycat" products such as kosher sausage, imitation crab and non-dairy alterna- tives to cream, butter and cheese. I recall Koshereye's home page featuring Yo- gachips, Healthy, Crunchy Apple-A-Day! Organic Apple Chips. And their descrip- tion: "Yogachips are a tasty, healthy, convenient and eco-friendly snack food--an all natural, fat free, crispy apple in a bag! A perfect snack for the health con- scious, the fruits are free of the added preservatives and are grown without the us~ of harmful pesticides and chemicals. The chips are peanut/nut free and certified USDA organic, Vegan, Gluten-Free and OU Kosher, making them per- fect for anyone with dietary restrictions. We feel they are perfect for everyone!" Kosher food is available at many baseball stadiums and was sold at the Super Bowl. Major cruise lines provide kosher options, as do sev- eral leading hotel chains and airlines. Supermarkets continue to seek kosher certified products while expanding their kosher of- ferings. Wholesale food buyers would be advised to un- derstand that when two products are basically equal, the smart choice is to select the kosher certified product, a magnet to the shopper who spends more on food, shops more frequently, while preferring a store that will offer the specialty gourmet, gluten-free, or- ganic, healthful, perhaps even locally grown but most certainly kosher selections. The "kosher is better" buy- ers are looking for the extra step of cleanliness, purity and transparency, enabling them to raise their "eating consciousness." Were I to accompany Rabbi Eiefant to a show these days, I am certain that his catch phrase would now be, "It's cool and trendy to buy kosher." Note: many of the updated statistics and informatio~ from is Seafood. corn News - "Half the food on supermar- ket shelves is now reported to be Kosher," February 23, 2011. $, Report From page 5A Bar Charts recently posted by this author at the Man- dell Berman North Ameri- can Jewish Data Bank, which provides compari- sons of 55 American Jewish communities on hundreds of measures. New York is like other Jewish communities in some ways. For example, among the comparison Jewish communities, the percentage of persons in Jewish households in New York age 17 and younger (23 percent), age 65 and older (20 percent) and age 75 and older (12 percent) as well as average household size (2.55 persons per house- hold) are all about average. Synagogue membership (44 percent) and Jewish com- munity center participation (32 percent) are both about average, too. The percent- age of households who do- nated to any Jewish charity in the past year (59 percent) is a bit below average. On the other hand, New York really differs from the rest of the country on many measures. For example, among the comparison communities, the percent- age of those in the local community who are Jewish (13 percent) is the third highest after Florida's South Palm Beach and Broward County. The percentage lo- cally born (56 percent) is the highest and the percentage foreign born (29 percent) is topped only by Miami. Among the 55 compari- son Jewish communities, the percentage of Orthodox households (20 percent) is the second highest (just below Baltimore), Conser- vative (19 percent) is the fourth lowest and Reform (23 percent) is the second lowest. The percentage Just Jewish (37 percent) is the fifth highest. The percentage of house- holds who keep a kosher home (32 percent) is the highest. The 22 percent of married couples in the Jewish community who are intermarried is well below average. The percentage of households who donated to the local Jewish federation in the past year (24 percent) is the sixth lowest. Thus, New York also dif- fers greatly. No other Jewish community is as large, as diverse or as poor. Its Or- thodox Jewish community alone is larger than any other American Jewish commu- nity, except perhaps for Los Angeles. In no other com- munity do we see the growth in Orthodox identification that we see in New York (al- though we do see increases elsewhere in participation in Orthodox, mostly Chabad, institutions). Still, some trends and relationships found in the New York report almost certainly apply in many other Jewish communities. For example, the trend to- ward greater bifurcation, with some becoming more Jewishly engaged (although not Orthodox) while others become less Jewishly en- gaged, is seen in most Jew- ish communities today. And the relationships shown in New York between Jew- ish engagement and such experiences as Israel trips and Jewish overnight camps almost certainly suggest that further emphasis on such informal Jewish edu- cational efforts throughout the nation is warranted. While it is unfortunate that a 2010 national Jewish population survey was not undertaken, one of the valid arguments against a new NJPS is that most planning in the Jewish community is done at the community lewl. That is because, as shoan by our Compendium, Jev/sh communities differ sigfificantly from one an- otl-er. New York differs even mo'e than most. [erhaps the most impor- tart lesson to be garnered fron our initial exposure to thdindings of the New York stuty is that it will lead to sone major changes in the manner in which the UJA- Jewish Federation of New York and the New York Jew- ish community in general views itself and operates. I have completed more than 40 similar studies through- out the country and believe that the real lesson is that conducting similar studies in the Houstons, Tucsons and Springfields will result in similar benefits for those communities. Jewish com- munities do differ. Ira M. Sheskin is a pro- fessor in the department of geography and regional studies and the director of the Jewish Demography Project of the Sue and Leon- ard Miller Center for Con- temporary Judaic Studies at the University of Miami. FIRST WE LISTEN THEN WE DELIVER! LET MY 41 YEARS OF INSURANCE EXPERIENCE ] EVIEW YOUR COVERAGES AND DESIGN A PACKAGE THAT PROTECTS YOUR BUSINESS BY MEETING YOUR SPECIAL NEEDS! AI Forms of Insurance Products for Business letailers, Manufacturers, Contractors, ervice Industries, Restaurants, Child Care, Ihysicians, Attorneys (all Today To Schedule An Appointment At Your Convenience Marshall L. Helbraun Representing The Sihle Insurance Group, Inc. An Independant Insurance Agency Phone: 1-800-432-6652 (407) 761-3521 (cell phone)