The importance of teaching health and wellness to Jewish teens

As more teen programs are created, hopefully there will be many others and Jewish teens will have more tools to lead healthy Jewish lives.

April 17, 2017 22:45
2 minute read.
TEACHING people to eat healthy can include courses in organic farming and other endeavors, writes th

TEACHING people to eat healthy can include courses in organic farming and other endeavors, writes the author. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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If you’re like most Jewish families, you probably overindulged during Passover.

While Passover foods may be delicious, they are also notoriously high in cholesterol, fat and calories. In fact, many traditional Jewish foods do not offer the best nutritional value (think schmaltz, latkes and rugelach!).

Although some Jewish organizations do focus on health and wellbeing, it is not the norm. For the most part, non-Jewish organizations have taken the lead on prioritizing health and wellness, especially where teens are concerned.

In a 2015 memo, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that “adolescence is a critical stage of development during which physical, intellectual, emotional and psychological changes occur. While adolescence is a relatively healthy period of life, adolescents begin to make lifestyle choices and establish behaviors that affect both their current and future health.”

It is imperative that Jewish organizations that cater to teens prioritize teaching healthy habits. Thankfully, a few Jewish organizations are paving the way in this field.

The Reform Movement recently opened a southern California branch of their URJ 6 Points Sports Academy, after the North Carolina branch had several successful summers since their launch in 2010. As their website advertises, 6 Points is a place where “athletes discover and deepen their Jewish identity through sports.” The camp is open to children from grades four to 11.

Camp Zeke is a pluralistic Jewish camp in Pennsylvania that “celebrates healthy, active living through organic food, athletics, and culinary arts.” This summer, Camp Zeke is launching a three-city teen tour that will make stops in New York, Philadelphia and Boston. In the Zeke Teen Travel Program, rising 10th and 12th graders will experience the food and fitness cultures of these three cities in three weeks.

“It is important to teach Jewish kids about health and wellness from an early stage,” said Camp Zeke’s executive director Isaac Mamaysky, who co-founded the camp with his wife Lisa in 2014. “It is especially important to reinforce these values and habits in teens, who are already starting to make choices that will impact their health for years down the road. We want to ensure they choose to live a healthy and joyfully Jewish life, guided by their Jewish values.”

Eden Village Camp, a Jewish environmental camp located in upstate New York, offers a number of programs for teens including a teen apprentice program, which teaches culinary arts, organic farming and leadership skills.

These are just a few examples of programs designed to introduce health and wellness to Jewish teens. As more teen programs are created, hopefully there will be many others and Jewish teens will have more tools to lead healthy Jewish lives, with the opportunity for an occasional piece of rugelach.

The author is a writer passionate about health, wellbeing and the Jewish community.

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