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New survey gives insight into Jewish teens' attitudes and behaviors

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"As a community, we are heavily invested in identifying ways to engage teens in Jewish life," said Sarina Gerson, the director of Springboard, JUF's Teen Engagement Initiative. "While support of programs and outreach to teens are critical, it is equally, if not more important that we actually understand what teens want and work with them to create meaningful experiences." This lesson, she added, is emphasized in a new study,Generation Now: Understanding and Engaging Jewish Teens Today released by The Jewish Education Project."

Generation Now offers an unprecedented look at Jewish teens- their interests, hopes, beliefs, and more. Based on more than two years of research, focus groups, and surveys, the report outlines 14 outcomes that Jewish teen initiatives and programs should strive to achieve in order to have the deepest, most meaningful impact.

These outcomes would reflect a program's ability to impact teens both as human beings and as Jews. They include that teens: feel a sense of pride about being Jewish; experience learning that is both challenging and valuable; establish strong friendships with each other and their families; and feel inspired and empowered to make a positive difference in the world in which they live. 

"As our process of listening directly to teens unfolded, what we began to learn clearly warranted a complete paradigm shift in how the Jewish community approaches teen education and engagement," says David Bryfman, Chief Innovation Officer at The Jewish Education Project, who oversaw this research and compilation of the report. "We should develop Jewish opportunities in concert with teens and that address allaspects of their lives. As a whole, teens want to learn, want to be challenged, value family and friends, and they often seamlessly blend all facets of their identity and personality."

Although not every Jewish program will address all 14 recommended outcomes, as teens participate in multiple programs over the course of their development, the hope is that they will experience the majority of the outcomes. 

These outcomes-along with accompanying indicators and measurement tools-are already being field-tested in many communities. In Chicago, they are being used to measure the impact of existing programs for teens, as well as new, immersive, Jewish experiences taking place over school vacations through Springboard.

Gerson explains that a baseline survey of Jewish teens in Chicago was fielded in April and May to gain local insights. "We need to know how teens are connecting to existing programs, as well as how these programs might already be providing the outcomes we want," she said. "Springboard will support local programs by providing professional development, assistance with program design, and field-tested measurement tools to ensure that teens have access to the highest-quality Jewish experiences."

Generation Now builds on a 2013 report by the Jim Joseph Foundation . Following the release of that report, the Jim Joseph Foundation began partnering with funders in 10 US communities-including Chicago-to significantly invest further in Jewish teen education and engagement. 

The Jewish Education Project has run the National Incubator that has been working closely with these communities as they design and modify their teen initiatives based on the latest research.

"If we, as a community, are going to be successful at supporting meaningful and relevant Jewish learning experiences for teens," said Josh Miller, Program Director at the Jim Joseph Foundation, "we must be attuned to what matters most to them as human beings and as Jews."   

For more information about how JUF's engages local Jewish teens, see the Teens@JUFwebpage at juf.org/teens .

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