Take It in Three

GLEANINGS
Dialogue on Jewish Education from The Davidson School
Issue 1, Winter 2014

Rachel Meytin

Judaism has a lot of threes: three moments of daily prayer, three things on which the world rests (al haTorah, al haAvodah, v'al Gemilut Hasidim [Pirkei Avot 1:2]), and three historical divisions (Cohen, Levi, and Israelite)—three parts that together form the whole people of Israel. 

Threes are poetic and easy to remember, and it's unsurprising that they show up regularly in traditional and modern thought. They also provide ample opportunity for interpretation and extrapolation: What do two have in common that the third does not? Are they legs of a stool—equal in importance and priority, or do they grow on each other like concentric circles? 

It is in this vein that a new triad for youth is suggested: Identify, Connect, and Improve—three core educational outcomes that BBYO calls the "educational framework." Together, the three words describe the intended impact of youth participation. In other words, this is how we want our teens to be on their own when they leave our youth programs: we want our young alumni to be confident about their Jewish identity, connected to Israel and their local and global Jewish community, and committed to leading others and improving the world. But what does that really mean? And once we understand the words and the meaning, how do we break these big concepts down so that a Shabbat service, a Saturday night social, and a weekday meeting can all be aligned to meet these big goals?

Identify: Strengthen Jewish Identity

• Teens feel confident questioning and integrating into their lives Jewish principles about God, Torah, history, traditions, and culture.

• Teens respect diversity within the Jewish community and in the world.

• Teens use leadership skills to help others develop their own Jewish pride, connections, and commitment.  

Connect: Create Jewish Community

• Teens have caring and respectful relationships with Jewish peers.

• Teens understand the role that Israel plays for the Jewish people around the world.

• Teens promote the inclusion of all Jews into a pluralistic Jewish community.  

Improve: Change the World

• Teens understand current social issues.

• Teens use Jewish values to guide involvement in service, philanthropy, and advocacy.

• Teens use leadership skills to mobilize peers around social issues.

One way to explore this tripartite outcome is to see its parts as concentric circles, where growth occurs as we shift from one stage to the next. Even within each circle there are stages of growth, first internal, then local, then communal. We begin with the individual: in our central circle we focus on the experience a teen has within herself—her identification with Judaism. Then in the second phase, we push this individual to grow beyond herself and create community with other emerging individuals. Once within that second circle, having created a safe and supportive community, we require movement to the third level: looking outward and making the world better. 

One of the differences between the concentric circles model and the stool is that the stool requires all three of its legs. With a concentric circle you could succeed at the two inner circles but not the outer—and that would not diminish the achievement for the first two. Would we feel we have succeeded if a teen excels at only two of these three? Can you truly connect to others and form meaningful communities without recognizing your own self and identity? Do we, as a Jewish community, think that it's "good enough" if someone is proudly Jewish but doesn't work toward making the world a better place? Can you be a Jew in isolation, without finding a community that shares and supports your values? Just like the metaphoric three-legged stool, the three parts of our "ideal" teen can only really be recognized in partnership with others—yet we also see the components as concentric circles with progression that takes place as teens grow from an inward to an outward focus.

As the parts work together in this model, so these three outcomes come together and shape how programming is created. To play this idea out, let's take Shabbat, something that directly falls into the first circle of an individual's own connection to Judaism. However, Shabbat programming can reach its fullest potential when we recognize not only the individual experience but that of the community, the opportunity to strengthen relationships beyond just sitting together in a room. We can look for ways that Shabbat can model the ideal world, and that personal introspection can spur community action. When teens are ready to tackle their community's largest issues, we can help them focus on issues that align most closely with their understanding of Judaism's commitment to social justice. We can make explicit to teens the increased power that their individual selves have when they come together, in community, to serve and support each other.

Rachel Meytin is the director of Panim and Jewish Enrichment at BBYO, and holds an MAEd and an MBA from the American Jewish University.