Having Jewish “social capital” is critical to building a strong Jewish future. Recent research conducted by the JPPI (The Jewish People Policy Institute) has discovered that the strongest influence on teens’ Jewish engagement, and the strongest predictor of how they will continue to be involved Jewishly in the future is their social circle–not necessarily their families. This determines many important milestones later in life—from who their friends will be in college; whether they marry a Jewish spouse; and the extent of their involvement in Jewish life: observance of holidays, belonging to a synagogue, visiting Israel, and lighting Shabbat candles.
Why is this important to NCSY? Because our programming decisions reflect this very research. At NCSY, we’ve understood the importance of teens’ social circle as primary. At NCSY, engagement of Jewish teens in Shabbatons and other social events is not fluff—it is critical to beginning a process of Jewish discovery that has a snowball effect down the line.
During this month alone, approximately 250 of teens attended two Shabbatons: the Premier Getaway at Niagara Falls for our teens and the Juniors Wildfire Shabbaton for NCSYers from Grades 6 to 8. The casual observer might ask, “What can one Shabbat really do?” In actuality, the impact of teens spending time with other Jewish peers while taking part in a Shabbat is life changing.
As one NCSYer said after the Shabbaton:
“’I’ve never seen a group of people who are so genuinely happy and love their way of life so much… it makes me want to live my life in a way that I really love and of course… to find out what that is….I want to live with the passion that the staff here have… this was my first real shabbos experience in my life and it was so good!”
Who knows what lies ahead for this one participant? One thing is for certain: he will never again look upon Jewish life with apathy or indifference. The passion for Judaism has been lit. That is what NCSY is all about!