In the small communities of Central Oregon, it is vitally important to expose our youth to a larger circle of Jewish peers. All Central Oregon middle and high schoolers, regardless of temple affiliation, are welcome to join our local BBYO chapter (grades 9 – 12), associated with the national organization, and our own Central Oregon Jewish Youth (COJY) for grades 6 – 8. These two groups provide opportunities for our young people to interact with Jewish kids locally, in Portland and other cities. While they may be a small minority here, we want our kids to benefit from seeing vibrant Jewish communities in the region and across the country.
Research suggests that the teen years are critical for identity development, including Jewish identity. At the same time, many teens consider their bar/bat mitzvah the end of their Jewish journey, contributing to a dramatic dropout rate post-b’nai mitzvah.
Concerned parents and TBT members in our community, launched COJY in the fall of 2016 so that our Jewish kids could create and maintain their own community. They felt that if our teens met other Jewish kids to have fun and do good on a broader scale, they would be more likely to stay committed to their Jewish heritage, religion and values. The two clubs focus on age-appropriate activities that nurture the Jewish experience, promoting personal growth, self-management and social action.
The first four teenagers who participated in the kick-off retreat in Sunriver, formed their own club and committed to meeting weekly. Growing quickly with new members, they named themselves Shalom Teva, a nod to their love of nature. The group is now an official BBYO chapter in Central Oregon.
They planned their first event on their own, gathering and delivering winter clothing and supplies to the homeless. They have cooked for guests at local homeless shelters and participate in trail cleanups and other environmental projects, in addition to hosting social activities.
Meanwhile, COJY advisors are grooming middle schoolers to be fully active youth group members in future years. They are helping them learn what it means to take part in community services and to be leaders in the Jewish community.