Rachel Katoni of South Orange, 16, wrote a pledge to practice Judaism by lighting candles and getting challah every Shabbat, incorporating “the small Jewish things that will make a huge difference throughout my life,” she said.
Every two years, this Columbia High School sophomore will receive a text to remind her of her promise. Every five years, a letter will arrive to nudge her if she needs it.
Skyler Bolkin of Passaic, 26, communications coordinator at Bergen County Department of Parks & Recreation, also charted a Jewish path forward when she signed a pledge to keep practicing mitzvot and building relationships within a religious Jewish community to foster that growth. Like Ms. Katoni, she will get periodic reminders — hers will be about what her 24-year-old self wrote to her adult self.
The signed commitments from across North America and Israel — stored in a digital time capsule — now number 13,200. The promises from young people, ranging from 13 to their mid-20s — are part of an organized movement called Jewish Youth Pledge, established to ensure a vibrant Jewish life for future generations.
Jewish Youth Pledge is an Atlanta-based initiative designed to strengthen ties between 45 Jewish youth programs and their alumni. The project debuted officially at the BBYO International Convention in
“JYP’s mission is to redefine how Jewish youth and alums connect, engaging them in meaningful conversations and inspiring a renewed dedication to their shared heritage,” said Mike Leven, a retired hotel industry executive and philanthropist who founded Jewish Youth Pledge. JYP is a sister initiative of Leven’s Jewish Future Pledge, which seeks a nonbinding commitment from Jews to earmark 50 percent of the charitable dollars in their estate to Jewish causes or the State of Israel. To date, more than 20,400 people have made this pledge.
Mr. Leven, 85, got the idea of JYP because once he entered adulthood, he did not hear from the Jewish organizations of his youth — camp, AZA, and the YMHA. While that is not the case these days, he said, “the time-capsule idea puts Jewish adults in constant memory of the experience they had in their
The Jewish youth organizations — ranging from camp to BBYO to AEPi — have access to the pledges, but JYP sends the reminders.
“The Jewish Youth Pledge and digital time capsule are powerful tools to remind people that the profound Jewish moments of their youth can be guideposts for their adult lives,” said BBYO CEO Matt Grossman in Washington. “Organizations like BBYO stay relevant in their memories as we encourage them to build meaningful Jewish lives.”
Like BBYO, Olami is one of the partner organizations working with Jewish Youth Pledge. Funded by philanthropists, the Jewish engagement organization of Orthodox groups reaches out to unaffiliated Jewish college students and young adults with educational and social programs.
“We gather the teens together, give the 20-minute intro about the letter writing and time capsule, and then provide the students with the opportunity to reflect,” said Miriam Tennenbaum, vice president of development for Olami, which is headquartered in Manhattan.
“The founder of Jewish Youth Pledge was inspired to create this pledge that allowed Jewish young adults to take a moment to reflect on their Jewish identity and commit to incorporate Judaism in their lives,” she said. “It was just explicitly meant to be vague because it’s really up to the individual and how they see that taking shape in their lives 20, 30, 40 years down the line.”
Ms. Bolkin learned about Jewish Youth Pledge through Olami. The Rutgers University graduate was at an Olami summit in London when she wrote her promise to herself. “I was, like, ‘oh, this is cool.’ It gave me a moment to reflect on what I wanted out of my life and what role I wanted Judaism to play in my life.”
Ms. Katoni, a regional BBYO leader who belongs to Congregation Beth El in South Orange, became aware of the Jewish Youth Pledge at a BBYO convention. “I spent a lot of time talking with the [JYP staff] about the pledge and spent time thinking about what I wanted to say to my future self, just making sure that I always incorporate Judaism throughout my life,” she said.
Receiving a text “is a perfect way for us to be reminded of who I was years before and who I am aiming to be,” she added.
The online pledge begins with a prompt that is meant to inspire students to write their own message: “I hereby pledge to act today and throughout my lifetime to strengthen the Jewish people here and in Israel. I make this commitment because I have a responsibility to ensure that my generation writes the next chapter of the Jewish story and remains a strong link in the chain of generations.”
The prompt resonated with Ms. Bolkin, who belonged to Kehilat Kesher, an Orthodox synagogue in Englewood, before she moved to Passaic. She was not raised to be observant, she said, but now she’s well on her way.
“I liked the idea of being a link in a chain,” she said. “I might have known it, but having the opportunity to sit down with myself and formally acknowledge it and take on that responsibility — that was a real shift, like, I am going to commit to this and take actions now in my life to make sure I live up to that responsibility.”
To take the online pledge, go to jewishyouthpledge.org