"Forty-seven percent of boys see their Bar Mitzvah as their graduation from Judaism. I don't remember getting a Judaism diploma at my Bar Mitzvah, but that's how they see it," said James Moché, director of program and research at Moving Traditions, a Jenkintown-based organization that provides resources to inspire people to draw on Judaism at key life-cycle moments.
While speaking to a group of 20 educators, administrators and lay leaders gathered at the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education in Elkins Park, Moché outlined 21 ways that Jewish organizations can better reach young males.
One suggestion was for youth groups and schools to hire more male staff members, in order to better relate to the boys in a program.
Audience member Renee Goldfarb said that she understands the value of a male staff member. As director of the Western campus of the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College, she could not help but notice the positive impact that a 24-year-old male teacher has been having with the young men in his class.
"I get parents calling me up, asking me what classes [he's] teaching next year because they want their sons to be in the class," she said. "They see how he's turning them on to Judaism."
Moché's talk — sponsored by the Limmud Foundation for the Support of Jewish Education — focused on reaching out to boys ages 12 to 18. The speaker suggested that groups could give teens the responsibility of leading activities and creating rite-of-passage rituals. They could also avoid clique formations, initiate boy-centric activities and even go on "wilderness"-related trips.
Moché's 21 ideas represent the culmination of research that he's conducted with Jewish groups like B'nai Brith Youth Organization, as well as with secular organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Because not every activity will work for every person, Moché stopped short of calling the suggestions the "best" practices, instead referring to them as "intriguing" ones.
After the talk, Goldfarb noted that she plans to bring some different terminology back to her school.
"I want to make sure we use the word 'boy-friendly,' " she said. "I want to make sure we have a boy-friendly environment."
Since Moving Traditions runs Rosh Hodesh: It's a Girl Thing! — a female-only informal education program focusing on giving them a safe space to express their feelings — it got organizers wondering if something similar should be offered for boys. While Moché said that's not part of the group's immediate plans, he did say that creating other male-only activities is a viable option.
Mira Colflesh, the education director of Tzedek v'Shalom in Newtown, understands that splitting up boys and girls — even for a single activity — can be controversial, but she believes that it may yield positive results.
"I think that's already a radical suggestion," she said. "That's something I might even try — just to have a discussion group, just to start talking."