Maintaining Strong Ties to Our Community
Ben Goldstein made a written pledge to maintain his strong ties to the Jewish community after he ages out of his regional BBYO post. Every two years, this eleventh grader at Marlboro High School will receive a text to remind him of his promise. Every five years, a letter will arrive to nudge him if he needs it.
Lauren Breslow, an 11th grader at Manalapan High School, also plans to chart a Jewish path forward after she steps down from BBY0 leadership. Like Goldstein, she will get periodic reminders about what her teenage self wrote to her adult self.
The signed commitments—stored in a digital time capsule—from Jewish youth now number 13,200 across North America and Israel. The promises are part of an organized movement called Jewish Youth Pledge to ensure a vibrant Jewish life for future generations.
Jewish Youth Pledge is an Atlanta-based initiative designed to strengthen ties between 45 Jewish youth programs and their alumni.
“JYP’s mission is to redefine how Jewish youth and alums connect, engaging them in meaningful conversations and inspiring a renewed dedication to their shared heritage,” said Mike Leven, a retired hotel industry executive and philanthropist who founded Jewish Youth Pledge. JYP is a sister initiative of Leven’s Jewish Future Pledge, which seeks a nonbinding commitment from Jews to earmark 50 percent of the charitable dollars in their estate to Jewish causes or the State of Israel. To date, more than 20,400 individuals have made this pledge.
Leven, 85, got the idea of JYP because once he entered adulthood, he did not hear from the Jewish organizations of his youth—camp, AZA and the YMHA. While that is not the case these days, he said, “the time capsule idea puts Jewish adults in constant memory of the experience they had in their younger days.”
The Jewish youth organizations—ranging from camp to BBYO to AEPi—have access to the pledges, but the reminders are sent by JYP.
“The Jewish Youth Pledge and digital time capsule are powerful tools to remind people that the profound Jewish moments of their youth can be guideposts for their adult lives,” said BBYO CEO Matt Grossman in Washington, D.C. “Organizations like BBYO stay relevant in their memories as we encourage them to build meaningful Jewish lives.”
Miriam Tennenbaum is vice president of development for Olami in Lakewood. The Jewish engagement organization reaches out to unaffiliated Jewish students and young adults with educational programs.
Jewish Youth Pledge is part of Olami’s curriculum and is designed for 13 to 24-year-olds. “We gather the teens together, give the 20-minute intro about the letter writing and time capsule and then provide the students with the opportunity to reflect,” Ms. Tennenbaum said.
“The founder of Jewish Youth Pledge,” she said, “was inspired to create this pledge that allowed Jewish young adults to take a moment to reflect on their Jewish identity and commit to incorporate Judaism in their lives. It was just explicitly meant to be vague because it’s really up to the individual and how they see that taking shape in their lives 20, 30, 40 years down the line.”
Breslow is president of the central New Jersey area BBYO and is set to visit Israel this summer on a BBYO trip with the help of two grants from the Jewish Federation of the Heart of New Jersey. She joined BBYO in eighth grade as a way to meet new people and connect with her Judaism outside of Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan.
“It’s heartening to know there are youth from our community who are invested in being part of the Jewish story going forward,” said Lisa Karasic, chief communications officer of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey. “Federation is proud to invest in their Jewish journeys through teen leadership programs and delighted by efforts like Jewish Youth pledge.”
Breslow’s Jewish Youth Pledge “was something along the lines of just continuing to make sure that Judaism is a part of my life for the rest of my life.”
She wants to attend a college with a big Jewish population, join a Jewish sorority, marry someone Jewish, continue to celebrate all the holidays, attend synagogue and make sure her children grow up Jewish.
The pledge “was actually really cool and that in the future I’ll be able to look back and see what I did when I was in BBYO,” she said.
The online pledge begins with a prompt that inspires students to write their own message: “I hereby pledge to act today and throughout my lifetime to strengthen the Jewish people here and in Israel. I make this commitment because I have a responsibility to ensure that my generation writes the next chapter of the Jewish story and remains a strong link in the chain of generations.”
With a grant from Federation to Goldstein and his brother, both attended a chapter leadership training conference last summer at Camp Poyntelle in Prescott, Penn. Ben Goldstein is BBYO president for Central New Jersey and belongs to Temple Beth Shalom in Englishtown.
He said that he won’t forget his Jewish commitment and the Jewish Youth Pledge he made at the camp. “I have learned what Judaism really is. Rabbis always say that Judaism isn’t a religion, it’s a people. That’s kind of stuck with me throughout my journey with Judaism. Yes you have your prayer and you have your High Holidays. But the people create a bond that you can’t replicate anywhere with anything in the world really. I started making it my goal in this BBYO position that I was going to make a difference. I’m very excited for what the future holds.”
The gist of his personal pledge? “Don’t Mess Up,” he said.
ELLEN BRAUNSTEIN is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.