Congregation Etz Hayim in Arlington is getting creative to keep post-b’nai mitzvah students involved, hoping that some dollar signs might keep them coming back to the Torah.
They won’t be paying students. But last month it began an initiative that will add some financial incentive anyway. Every time a student reads a Torah portion or haftarah at Shabbat services, $18 will go to a fund that supports the Conservative congregation’s youth activities — camps, travel and group outings.
The initiative wasn’t a response to lack of teenage participation, said Rabbi Lia Bass. Rather, the congregation wanted to take advantage of the students’ proficiency.
“We’ve been teaching the sixth graders Torah and haftarah trope, and we decided that we don’t want that to go to waste,” Bass said. “It’s a lot of effort to get the kids up to that level. So given all the competing things that happen on a Saturday morning for a lot of our teens, we decided to incentivize the Torah reading.”
When Bass approached congregants to donate to the fund, she explained the benefits as three-fold: the fund would encourage students to put their trope skills to use; it would give them an incentive to attend services; and there would be more money for youth programs.
“We have very active students,” she said. “Many teach in our religious school and a lot of our young congregants are involved with BBYO.”
Youth group membership is expensive, she added. “So this way they can be more connected by having an obligation to the congregation to read Torah and using that money for activities in the Jewish community.”