To foster a sense of community among Jewish youth in the far corners of Orange County is a difficult task, given that most resources are available exclusively at the county's Jewish Community Center in Costa Mesa.
For parents able to shlep their youngsters, the center offers an array of youth-oriented programs such as Sunday sports leagues and after-school enrichment classes. But, in practice, participation thins beyond the borders of Huntington Beach or Irvine. "Anything further north or south takes a pretty high-level commitment," said Jay Lewis, assistant director of the Bureau of Jewish Education.
After-school classes, offered either at the JCC or Tarbut V'Torah in Irvine, include piano, voice, crafts, painting, chess, kung fu and cheerleading. Sunday soccer and basketball leagues are offered for grade-school children.
Since 1977, in an effort to create critical mass among youth, the bureau has operated Adat Noar, which literally means youth community. Currently, about 175 ninth-graders participate in the program, which runs during the academic year and meets Sundays at different synagogues throughout the county and for weekend retreats at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley.
TALIT, an acronym for "Teens Are Leaders in Training," is a bureau-led group for high-school age youth. About 240 TALIT members meet 12 Sunday nights a year in Costa Mesa. Besides schmoozing and kosher pizza, the teens learn how to serve as camp counselors, song leaders and teacher aides in religious schools. They also help organize social action projects. TALIT is intended to prepare teens to become future community leaders.
Orange County Teen Shabbat, organized by an inter-agency Jewish task force, meets in Costa Mesa on intermittent Friday nights for youth-led Shabbat services, dinner and a teen-oriented speaker. Scheduled dates are Dec. 14, Feb. 22, April 5 and May 10.
Jewish tradition, history and Hebrew are taught at the Pacific Community Jewish Culture School, which meets for a three-hour session two Sundays per month at the JCC. The school is allied with secular, humanistic Judaism, which celebrates Jewish traditions and culture, except for those involving a belief in God. About 30 students are currently enrolled, according to Terry Bayer, a volunteer spokeswoman. Tuition is $375 for 20 sessions. For information contact (949) 640-4246.
The B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, a community-based youth group, serves as the unofficial youth group for the Reform Congregation B'nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley and the Reform Temple Beth Tikvah. The largest local chapter is in Irvine, where two-thirds of its members are unaffiliated with any synagogue, said Rob Petroff, BBYO's regional director. Members participate in group retreats, regional dances, basketball tournaments and social activism. In all, about 500 teens participate in the southwestern region, which includes Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange and San Diego counties.
United Synagogue Youth has active programs at the Conservative congregations of B'nai Israel in Tustin and Eilat in Mission Viejo. Besides a Shabbat club for its youth, B'nai Israel also holds Saturday night youth parties, such as a recent jungle-themed event that featured African fire dancers. "Our kids choose USY over anything else," said Barbara Sherman, the congregation youth director.
The National Federation of Temple Youth has active groups at the Reform temples Bat Yahm in Newport Beach, Beth El in Aliso Viejo and Beth Shalom in Santa Ana.
Camp Haverim, which operates during summer and school holidays, is located at the Tarbut V'Torah campus at 5200 Bonita Canyon Drive in Irvine. Winter camp dates are Dec. 24 through Jan. 4. A camp brochure can be obtained by calling (714) 755-0340 ext. 126.
The Young Single Parent Group holds monthly get-togethers for members and their children. For information on upcoming events contact (949) 595-9079.
The Jewish Education Bureau has received $3,500 to create a county teen resource guide and Web site. The guide is expected in late spring of 2002.