Monday, January 7, 2013

The Shul Youth Program

Five years ago, I put together a list of ideas for an amplified synagogue Youth Program. The goal was to create a program that would be more than babysitting, stories and social activities; I wanted a program that would make our kids comfortable and competent in a shul environment.

Looking back at the list - as my oldest child is now 13 instead of 8 - I'm not sure how I feel about parts of this. Some of it strikes me as naive. But I'd be interested in hearing from you.

For younger children (age 2-6, perhaps):Storytime sessions with the rabbi, as well as with other leading players from the shul and community.

A tour of the shul, including the bimah, the aron and the rabbi’s office, giving the kids something specific to do at each site, and some measure of control of their environment, as they hear about what happens at each place.

For older children (age 7-12, perhaps):
Beyond Junior Congregation, training children in different parts of davening, including those which are somewhat esoteric. The schools will take care of daily davening, hopefully, but there’s a lot more they can learn, whether about Geshem and Tal or about the proper methods of Hagbah and Gelilah. (I’d leave it to the individual shul to decide whether that last is for girls as well, but my inclination is to teach them.)

Have Junior Congregation start when the Torah reading begins, and encourage parents to have their children with them beforehand, for psukei d'zimra. Having children see their parents daven can be very positive - and it can also help the parents focus on davening.

For early teens:Youth programs that bring kids into partnership with adults – Volunteering at a kosher food pantry, working on maintenance projects at shul, helping coordinate a shul-wide social event. All of these introduce children to the mechanics of the Jewish community, as well as to some of the players. Specific adults should also be invited to participate in youth programs, toward the same end.

Giving the oldest kids a position on the shul Youth Committee, both for program planning and budget analysis.

So I ask you: What would you change or add?


  1. For kids 11 - 20, a full kids minyan, run and attended only by youth.

    I'm not talking about a "Family minyan", run by the shul and controlled by the board / Gabbaim - I mean a minyan where there Gabaim, Ba'alei Tfila, Ba'ale Koreh and everyone else involved are below the age of 20. The only contribution of the shul would be the use of a room and a Sefer Torah.

    (Although if there is a separate building to house the minyan where the kids are also responsible for unlocking in the morning - even better)

    Letting the youth be responsible for organizing the minyan teaches them responsibility, and davening and leining in front to their peers is less-threatening then davening in the main minyan, but teaches very important skills.

    The Bnei Akiva Minyan in Melbourne is a great example, kids growing up in that minyan are comfortable in front of the amud, even on Yomin Noraim. As they get older and move into the "main minyan", if a Gabbai asks them to help out with something in the shul they are more inclined to say "yes" as they (or their friend) once was a Gabbai and they know how difficult it is to get volunteers.

    The only adults in that minyan are the Shlichim, and possibly a parent that wants to "shlep nachas" from hearing their son lein or daven.


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