Allowing students to chose what they want to study in religious school is sure to loosen a standardized curriculum. But such an exercise in democracy potentially can also instill commitment by its participants.
The O.C. Bureau of Jewish Education is counting on the latter. At the Eighth-Grade Jewish Values Weekend, May 14-16 at Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, students will vote on the course content for their ninth-grade Adat Noar year. "This is what makes it one of the most popular weekend programs," said Robyn Faintich, the bureau's youth programs director. "By choosing what they will study, these teens are beginning the process of making adult Jewish choices."
The students are divided into subgroups that examine one of 10 possible topics. After exploring a topic, each group creates a campaign skit to "sell" their subject for the 5765-5766 school year to their peers. Previous topics have ranged from "Relationships" and "Confronting Anti-Semitism, Bias and Hate" to "Shmirat haGuf: Guarding the Mind, Body & Soul" and "The American Jewish Teen." After the presentations, students vote for the minicourses that they think most apply to their lives and their concerns.
The weekend emphasizes icebreakers and mixers that help each teen make new friends and nurtures a youth community.
"I think getting ready for Shabbat is a favorite part of the weekend" said Romy Haase, a bureau alumna who has worked at the last two eighth-grade weekends.
"Students choose activities such as baking challah, Israeli dancing, and Shabbat z'mirot [songs]. They are also encouraged to write Shabbat-o-Grams [welcome messages] to each other -- these notes are collected and then distributed at Shabbat dinner."
The weekend is open to all Jewish eighth-graders from Orange County and Long Beach. To register, download an application at www.bjeoc.org or call (714) 755-4000.
Applications are due by May 3.