(Sam Grant, former Community Youth Coordinator)

‘Modern boys and girls…have many openings to interest them and many interests to divert them…Enthusiasm has to be very great to induce them to give up their amusements for their religion’ E.Eichols (A paper written for the second bulletin of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, September, 1931)

This quote above was taken from an article written in the 1930s about the nature of youth provision in Progressive Judaism. The insights are entirely applicable to 2013 and are important to grasp for any community interested in setting up a Youth Club. Young people have more choice than ever in their extra-curricular activities. Why would young people come to a synagogue youth club when they could go to karate, trampolining, fencing or aqua zumba? Youth Clubs need to be well thought out to be worth their while. However a successful youth club is invaluable to an overall vision of a community.

In a previous incarnation, Liberal Judaism’s ground-breaking youth movement, LJY-Netzer was named ULPSNYC-Netzer, the NYC standing for Network of Youth Clubs. One of the varied reasons for the youth movements rebranding was that it simply wasn’t true that the Youth Movement was a network of Youth Clubs anymore. Yet within Liberal Judaism there is a resurgence of Youth Club activity. At the time of counting there are nine LJ communities with active monthly Youth Clubs, but we could have more and the ones that we do have could always be attracting more young people to attend. The closer we return to a system of networked youth clubs that connect to our national youth movement, the stronger LJY-Netzer becomes and the stronger the future of Liberal Judaism becomes.

Simply wanting to have a synagogue youth club will not guarantee participants. Sincere thought needs to go into whether there is desire from parents and young people, which age group you are targeting, at what time the youth club will be, how frequent the youth club will run, how will we advertise and communicate to parents and young people and probably most importantly who is going to be the leaders. My role as Communities Youth Coordinator is to help with all these questions and the answers are different for every community, there is no one size fits all approach and careful planning is required for each model.

The most successful model currently is a youth club that focuses on informal education that teaches through fun games that runs for around two hours. It is vital that youth club offers something distinct from cheder education (the informalisation of cheder is another topic entirely!). One of the most untapped resources throughout Liberal Judaism is LJY-Netzer madrichim, who are keen to bring their Youth Movement experience to their communities. 15 – 18 year olds are going through extensive leadership training through LJY-Netzer which means the youth clubs are ideal places for them to get more experience with youth leading. Youth Clubs that are run by young people for young people (with supervision) are by far the most successful models. Leadership planning and training is provided at a separate point during the week and the youth club is directed by 17 and 18 year olds. This creates two distinct opportunities where school years 3-6 are provided activities and school years 10 and up stay involved as leaders for the youth movement. This model also creates a sustainable model where young people in the Shul see a ‘career path’ and aspire to become youth leaders at club at some point as well.

Please do get in touch if you have any questions about youth clubs or youth provision in general at ljynetzer@liberaljudaism.org