Synagogues can stay connected
A myriad of activities help create a bond between the congregation and its youngest members. These activities may start in nursery school and continue through religious or day school, Bar/Bat Mitzvah programs, KADIMA, USY, Camp Ramah, etc.
But when college students leave home, congregations often lose the close connection which once existed between the student and the synagogue.
All of the comfortable and familiar support is gone. This is further compounded by the loss of a supportive family atmosphere and the realization that one now needs to begin making certain decisions for the very first time.
While each congregation may choose to meet this challenge in its own way, there have been a number of successful models which may help your congregation meet the needs of your students. We offer these suggestions as a guide, and offer our assistance in helping you maintain a strong connection with students from your community.
We strongly urge you to form a College Outreach Committee in your congregation to maintain contact with your students.
KOACH is willing to help
Send us your list of college students to put on our mailing list. Give us the names of active students from your congregation so we can attempt to involve them in KOACH programs on campuses both here and in Israel. And feel free to contact us if we can help!
RITE OF PASSAGE
When one leaves home for college, it is a significant occasion. Congregations should seek an opportunity, before young people go away to school, to invite them to participate in a meaningful way in a Shabbat morning service with an aliyah, special prayer or special recognition (such a ceremony is available through the KOACH office).
It would also be fitting to involve parents and siblings, as well. A gift (Shabbat candlesticks, kiddush cup, etc.) may also be appropriate. Your congregation may want to present first-year students with mezuzot for their new dorm room.
During Thanksgiving vacation or winter break, many college students return home. This is a wonderful opportunity for congregations to connect students to the synagogue and their old high school friends. Homecoming services, Shabbat lunches, social evenings and Sunday brunches are among possible activities.
You can provide an easy link with your college students by simply placing them on your mailing list and sending them your monthly bulletin. Including a section on "campus news" would also be a nice touch.
Congregations should consider the use of audio or video tapes than can easily be prepared and reproduced in order to convey special messages to college students. Such tapes might include a message from the rabbi, a discussion of an issue of relevance and/or a message relating to an upcoming event in the Jewish calendar.
Congregations have found that the rabbi's sermons on issues of Jewish concern can make an impact on college students, even when they are not there to hear the message in person. The sermon can be reproduced and sent to the college mailing list.
"WE'RE THINKING OF YOU" MAILINGS
Many Congregations have received positive responses from students who receive regular mailings from the synagogue. Some congregations purchase the United Synagogue calendar and distribute it to college students when they first arrive at school. A host of congregations send out special holiday packages on Hanukkah, Pesach and other holidays. Packages contain holiday foods, ritual supplies, recipes, and information on the holidays. Some send Shalch Manot for Purim. Many have provided subscriptions to Jewish periodicals or gift certificates for Jewish books. Exam time often provides us with a perfect opportunity to send a small gift with which to say "we're thinking of you!" KOACH can provide you with a list of Jewish publications offering special student subscription rates.
Many rabbis, cantors, educators and youth directors visit their college students on campus. Often, a Hillel Director or college student from your congregation can arrange to gather students from your congregation for a dinner at the campus Hillel Foundation (be sure to provide the food!). The expense is minimal and the response, enthusiasm and impact can be great!
SUBSIDIES FOR JEWISH PROGRAMS
Encourage your college students to participate in educational and cultural programs of Jewish interest by providing subsidies to attend conferences to and enroll in Jewish studies courses on campus (Why not offer to pay for books for one Jewish studies course per year?). While the money is often appreciated, the fact that the congregation is willing to provide the subsidy to the KOACH Kallah. Students have returned from this conference with a renewed passion for Jewish life on campus and for Conservative Judaism in their own communities.
By dividing the college student list amongst various synagogue staff members, it is possible to touch each college student during the course of the year (at least once) by telephone. This is a simple and effective way to say "I care" and "I want to hear what you have to say."
Summer is an ideal time for college students to re-identify with the synagogue community. Congregations can use this time to create social links and communal bonds. Informal cultural and social programs can bring college students closer to the Jewish community. Perhaps your congregation has summer jobs available for students.
HOSTING STUDENTS FROM OTHER COMMUNITIES
There may be a number of students from other communities who are attending colleges and universities in your area. It is important to reach out to these students, to offer hospitality for Shabbat and Yom Tov, and to give them a sense of having a "home away from home." The local Hillel office (or its equivalent) may be able to help you identify such students.
Many college students in your community can enhance your synagogue program. When looking for religious school teachers, youth advisors, Torah readers and other staff, consider offering a job to a college student. While they can add to your congregation's activities, you can enrich their own Jewish involvement, as well.
High School juniors and seniors can be put in touch with your college students who are active in Jewish affairs to discuss Jewish life on campus and/or answer questions about specific colleges and universities. For high school students interested in a particular university, this can be a most valuable service.
Congregational leaders can also serve as mentors to graduating college students interested in specific career paths. Students could be invited to spend part of a day with individuals in specific businesses or professionals.
One note of caution: It is important to impress upon our students that these expressions of support from home should not serve as a substitute for Jewish involvement on campus. Most colleges and universities support Jewish student activities through Hillel Foundations, Jewish Student Unions or similar types of organizations. KOACH can play an important role in helping students involved in these activities.