(lubavitch.com) Young, smart, Jewish, they are the children of the baby boomers who cut their teeth on hi-speed internet and the virtual world it placed in their laps while still in the stroller.
In numbers and buying power, the millennial generation has surpassed its parents. But they are also more environmentally responsible and pragmatic than their elders. Businesses vying for their loyalty have learned to market their brands with edgier pitches that deliver direct, honest messages.
At the Rohr Jewish Learning institute, a new initiative has caught the attention of this sassy segment. 1,000 teens in 50 locations around the world have signed up and become involved.
With Jewish educational programs like the wildly popular MySpace YourSpace courses, JLI is reaching 13-18 year olds who want to explore hot-button issues in a culturally relevant context.
Since its launching, the program has run four courses and registration numbers have doubled.
Now, a new internship program is challenging many of the teens involved to take leadership roles in recruiting peers and planning events for their local JLI teen chapter. The interns convene once a month on an international conference call,comparing notes on their experiences as community leaders.
“we wanted to get students involved beyond the classes,” says Gani Domber, program director. “The internship program helps to build a stronger commitment to both the local and global Jewish communities. it also appeals to the students as something that builds their leadership skills.”
Launched in the summer of 2008, JLI teens targets the post bar-and bat mitzvah demographic. The sophisticated curriculum invites these youth to weigh in on philosophical questions about the existence of G-d and the relevance of Judaism, as well as to participate in practical discussions on drugs, alcohol and promiscuity.
Using Jewish texts to guide the round table style discussions, the courses make Jewish teachings come alive for the teens as they grapple with moral dilemmas and are challenged to make socially responsible choices in their day to-day lives.
Debbie Willaman, a JLI teens parent from Pittsburgh, PA, said the course was the first time her daughter, Gabby, 16, “was encouraged to talk about real challenges that face young people.”
Gabby, she said, has participated in multiple programs and “discovered that being a Jew is a source of pride and that torah is a well of wisdom to draw strength and guidance from.”
With anti-israel sentiment growing on high school and college campuses around the world, JLI’s new course, israel 3D: A Journey Through time Space and Beyond, will respond to many of the questions raised by teens encountering hostile rhetoric.
Participants will take a virtual tour of the land and explore its history, and culture. They’ll address questions such as: why does Judaism need a homeland? what right do we have to the land? is there a media bias against israel? will there ever be peace in the Middle east?
Rabbi Benny Rapaport, Director of JLI teens, says he expects the course will “prepare this influential population to be advocates for israel in a climate that would otherwise intimidate them.”