Does Girl Power = "Boy Crisis" ?
The American Jewish community never fails to worry. We worry about anti-Semitism. We worry about intermarriage. We worry about assimilation. And lately, we’ve been worrying about boys. In response to the steady retreat of boys and young men from Jewish communal life, many of us have declared our community plagued by a “boy crisis.”
An interesting word choice: crisis. I gave myself five seconds to free-associate with “crisis” and here’s what came to mind: AIDS, Ebola, Global Warming, Hurricane Katrina, Health Care. Curiously enough, “boys” did not surface as a crisis. Neither did “girls.”
After reading “The ‘Boy Crisis’ That Cried Wolf” an article by Rona Shapiro, senior associate at Ma’yan: The Jewish Women’s Project, I share Shapiro’s concern about the disproportional weight we attribute to male participation in Jewish life and her unease with the sensationalized language used to characterize Jewish gender dynamics in general.
The statistics quoted in Shapiro’s article do give us cause to worry. In the Reform Movement, boys comprise only 43% of youth group participants, 28% of campers at Camp Kutz (the Reform movement’s leadership camp for teens), and 33% of first-year rabbinical students at Hebrew Union College. And a recent study of affiliated Jewish teens conducted by Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies reveals that girls outnumber boys in youth programs 2-to-1. Yet as Shapiro points out, when four out of every five American college students were male, there was no “girl crisis.” And when women were not ordained as rabbis and not called to the Torah for aliyot or even allowed on the bimah at all, no one proclaimed a “crisis” of any kind.
Why is it that when the gender scale tips with girls’ involvement out-weighing boys,’ does the Jewish community declare a state of emergency? And perhaps more importantly, what’s the cause of this perceived “crisis” in the first place?
Some suggest that boys and men are retreating from Jewish life because women now dominate it (or so they think), and boys just haven’t found a way to adapt to shared leadership with their female counterparts. In response to this male absence, the Union for Reform Judaism recently launched a “Young Men’s Project.” Moving Traditions, sponsor of the program: “Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing!” has also begun a major initiative for boys.
These initiatives may be addressing a need, but the reasoning behind their inception is questionable. If boys’ disengagement from Jewish life is, in fact, spawned by a discomfort with “dominant” involvement and/or leadership among girls, should we really be advocating exclusive, boy-centered initiatives as an acceptable solution? Might this only exacerbate a “Sexism Crisis” ?
Perhaps the real crisis is the Jewish community’s lack of innovation in meeting the needs of boys and girls alike. We need to work collaboratively and creatively to accommodate the ways in which our community’s needs have evolved.