St. Louis youth groups build sense of community among Jewish teens

Fifty-one teens from St. Louis and 50 others from BBYO’s Mid-America Region took part in BBYO’s International Convention in 2018.  

By Halle Wasserman, Sophomore, Whitfield School

Jewish youth groups are important to many Jewish teens across St. Louis. Youth groups can encourage teens to get more involved in Jewish activities. There are four youth groups across the St. Louis area: NCSY, NFTY, USY and BBYO. 

Sarah Kline, a junior at Whitfield School and a co-president of NCSY, said her group meets Wednesdays at Starbucks for “Lattes and Learning” and for occasional activities like laser tag or trampoline.

“[We aim to reach] teens who are in schools that don’t have such a large percentage of Jews and those in smaller Jewish schools who want to meet people with that shared Jewish identity, outside of school or even outside the city where they live,” said Kline. 

According to Kline, the Orthodox Jewish youth group has a goal to connect Jewish teens to one another, no matter their level of practice. It is not affiliated with a congregation.

“My favorite thing is meeting different kids that are my age during Shabbatons from different cities and new people from my chapter,” said Kline. 

BBYO also has a big presence in St. Louis. Like NCSY, BBYO is not through a specific congregation. BBYO has boys, Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA) and girls, B’nai B’rith Girls (BBG), chapters that meet individually and together for social events.  

“There are different boy and girl chapters in St. Louis and at least a co-ed chapter in every state,” said Rylie Fine, a freshman at Eureka High School and member of B’nai Amoona. “We have many types of programs [on Wednesdays and once a month on the weekend], some about Jewish holidays, current events, [and] sisterhood bonding.”

Fine gets involved by taking on leadership roles.  There are opportunities for teens to participate on chapter boards, regional boards and national boards, where they can interact with Jewish teens from around the country.

“My favorite thing is the feeling of community,” explained Fine. “It brings a lot of people together that wouldn’t always be close if not for BBYO. BBYO is a chance for me to be with Jewish kids and develop a connection [with them].”

NFTY is a Reform youth group affiliated with the Reform movement. There are five NFTY chapters in St. Louis. Typically, teens join the youth group at their temple. NFTY is a part of Missouri Valley regional NFTY group. Lauren Mishkin, a senior at MICDS and president of Shaare Emeth Temple Youth Group (SETYG), loves her role as a leader in NFTY.

“We have lounge nights twice a month from 7-9 where it’s just the youth group hanging out. We have different board positions planning lounge nights…sometimes the programs are more serious and more related to Judaism than others,” said Mishkin. 

Like NCSY and BBYO, there are opportunities through retreats and conferences to meet with other NFTY participants from around the country.  Mishkin, however, most enjoys the local crowd.

“My favorite things about NFTY are the lounge nights because I become closer with the people in SETYG,” she said. “I love that I am able to be myself and make connections with SEGTY [and the people in it]. Everyone is super welcoming and open.” 

USY is a Conservative youth group that has two chapters in St. Louis: one at Kol Rinah (KRSTL) and the other at B’nai Amoona (BAUSY). KRSTL and BAUSY are a part of the region Emtza, which is the Midwest region for the national USY organization. 

“Every Wednesday from 7-8:30 p.m., we have a program such as a competition, game night and lounge night– even out of building programs around the city,” said David Smith, a sophomore at Parkway Central High School and Social Action/Tikkun Olam (SA/TO) Vice President of BAUSY. “Most programs are aimed at making a connection with Judaism and Israel while also creating a fun atmosphere that is keeping kids engaged and wanting to come back for more.” 

USY provides opportunities for teens to take on leadership roles in their communities, but it’s also about making friends.  

“One main goal of USY is keeping Jewish teens connected to Judaism and to have them wanting to be Jewish,” said Smith. “We want to bring Jewish teens together in a fun way.” 

There are a lot of options for youth group experiences in St. Louis, whether through a synagogue or another national group.  Each organization brings their own style to Jewish practice and social events.

“Youth groups are a great way to be a part of a Jewish community of teens,” Smith said.