2 #antisemitism thanks to her summer camp. It brought challenges, of course. There were the numerous reminders she had to give to her teachers every year about why she couldn’t do homework or wouldn’t be in class on Jewish holidays. The well-meaning sympathy that classmates gave her when she told them she didn’t have a Christmas tree. But nothing that she couldn’t handle. Elana proudly walked through her school, the shopping mall in her town, and airports wearing a Jewish star necklace and a T-shirt that pro- claimed “Everybody Loves a Jewish Girl.” She was excited to invite non- Jewish classmates to her bat mitzvah, smiled at Jewish references on her favorite TV shows, and laughed at the occasional Jewish joke. But in Octo- ber 2018, her proud equilibrium fundamentally shifted when she scrolled through her Instagram feed and saw the initial reports of the shooting at Congregation Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Elana didn’t know anyone directly impacted by the massacre, the deadliest attack on the Jew- ish community in the history of the United States. She had never been to Pittsburgh. But she couldn’t stop refreshing her feed, unable to look away from the rising death toll, the pain, and the shock. “I never felt targeted as a Jew before. I knew that I was connected to Jews around the world and that we had things in common, but the Pittsburgh shooting made things different. Everyone started talking about security guards and protecting ourselves. I guess I never felt like I needed protection before.” To be an American Jewish teen in the 2020s is to live in a world of dichotomies. There are more choices than ever before. More ways to “do Jewish” and for Jewish teens to get involved on their own terms than any previous generation has enjoyed. More leadership opportunities, travel experiences, and tailor-made options, all with the shared goal of connect- ing teens with Judaism, the Jewish community, and their own identities. And yet, in the face of abundant opportunities, teens still opt out of Jewish life in droves. In 2017, the Washington, DC, area reported that more than half of eligible Jewish children, that is, children with at least one Jewish- identifying parent, participated in some form of Jewish education through eighth grade. However, immediately afterward, during a transition time marked by the celebration of the b’nai mitzvah rite of passage and the entry to high school, that number drops to 17 percent. This number mir- rors national trends and tells us that during the pivotal identity-building years of adolescence, over 80 percent of Jewish teens are not engaged in Jewish education. There are those who despair as they look at the numbers of unengaged Jewish teens. Educators, clergy, parents, grandparents, and communal
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