A few weeks ago I witnessed a teen Shabbat in the congregation where I am a member. It was a wonderful experience. Approximately 100 young men and women came together and led the Shabbat morning service, but not in a traditional way. Rather than have a group of them or a small cadre lead the prayers, the service was divided into a series of divrei Torah (short explanations) focusing on different prayers and how the speakers struggled to find meaning in their words. I was fascinated listening to these young people share their insights into the prayers that so many of us take for granted and recite in a rote-like manner.
The highlight of the service for me was a brief presentation made by a college-bound senior who explained that the one experience he found most valuable during his high school years and that he thought he might not be able to replicate at the university was his men’s group. That’s right, a men’s group.
Part of the synagogue’s youth programming included separate men’s and women’s groups with each group meeting once a month. The combined group also met on a regular basis. The presenter indicated the group was valuable because in addition to pizza parties and sporting events, it provided him with the forum to share his concerns and fears about being accepted into college, or his feelings of inadequacy and fears of rejection prior to asking a young woman out for a date. I would like to think that the young men who participated in this group developed the confidence and the ability to share their feelings as a result of their experiences. I would hope that the same would go for the women.
Even though we live during a time when glass ceilings are finally crumbling, and the young women of today don’t even comprehend the struggles that the generations that preceded them had in order for them to be able to reach as far and as high as they desire, a need still exists for men and women to listen and learn from one another. Our young people are under such pressure these days and let’s face it, it doesn’t get much easier. Perhaps that is one of the reasons the Hearing Men’s Voices Initiative is successful. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why men’s groups are becoming more active in their congregations even though membership in general is in decline. Perhaps congregations should rethink a youth group model which hasn’t been significantly altered in 50 years so that the women and men who participate are able to grow into more comfortable mature adults.