On Saving “Lost” Orthodox Youth

Today’s piece in the Times on American youth and their peculiar relationship habits (namely, the use of internet/cellphones/etc to facilitate “hook ups” as opposed to develop “real” relationships), brings to mind the sorry state of at-risk youth in the Jewish community.

According to a 1999 study conducted by the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, 1,500 Orthodox Brooklynites aged 11 to 20, or 3.75% of Orthodox teens, are using or dealing drugs or engaging in other delinquent activities. An estimated 2,000 more are considered to be headed in that direction. Since then, one can safely assume the number of at-risk OrthoYouth has increased, as has their proportion in terms of the general population.

While the number of Orthodox agencies servicing these segment of the population has gone up, their success has often been stymied by their lack of proper training, funding or cooperation.

Have thoughts on the plethora of saving-Orthodox-kids-from-the-big-bad-world type of organizations — share ’em!

One thought on “On Saving “Lost” Orthodox Youth

  1. I spent a good few years going crazy when I left the community I had grown up in. Throughout my years living in a modern orthodox home, I would always lament the lack of programs there were for Jewish youth to express themselves, both creatively and socially. Drug dealing and the like allowed for the illusion that we were part of the secular world we were told to, at times, ignore. I’m not sure if your post points to the amount of Orthodox kids who have one hand on the Gemara and one hand on the blunt. I would say that in the quagmire of ortho-adolescence, there were few opportunities for creative expression, and far too little contact with slightly older Jewish people who had gone through a period where they abandoned their observant lifestyles altogether. It seems that many outreach programs these days are more concerned with keeping kids frum than with helping kids understand that straying is natural and at times very helpful for one to connect fully with Hashem. I don’t intend to ever return to a strictly observant home, but showing at risk Jewish youth (of all denominations) that the spiritual traditions of our ancestors allow a great amount of room for creative response, if not for creative resistance, is very important. I grapple with orthodox youth outreach in an American setting because it stifles resistance by quelling it. Rather, contextualizing this resistance in a Jewish framework is the best way to keep Jewish youth observant, as well as progressive and inherently modern.
    My aspiration is to create a transdenominational Jewish youth arts collective that connected with other cultural arts programs, from Isangmahal (a south asian youth arts collective), Youthspeaks (a multicultural arts collective out of nyc and sf) and other organizations. Anyone want on board?

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