Teenage JEWbilation program will highlight the joys of Judaism

It took a long time for David Tulkin, a 17-year-old San Mateo High School student, to see the light of Judaism.

But ever since, Tulkin has wanted to share it with others his age.

"I know it sounds corny, but some sort of Jewish explosion hit me a few years ago and I just want to pass the good news on," he said.

That inspiration is what motivates Tulkin and about a dozen other Bay Area teens to work on creating the second annual JEWbilation Celebration on Sunday, April 28 at the Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael.

These teens — gathered from 14 groups including B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, National Federation of Temple Youth and Bay Area synagogues — are planning workshops and other activities to share their positive experiences in Judaism with other young people.

Several local professionals have been asked to co-lead some of the 16 different sessions. Among them are Sydney Mintz of Camp Tawonga, teaching Jewish feminism; Paul Epstein of the East Bay federation's Center for Jewish Living and Learning, offering drama instruction; and Rabbi Stacey Laveson of Congregation Rodef Sholom, leading a session on mysticism.

Eighth-graders to high-school seniors attending the all-day event can choose from activities such as Jewish meditation, Kabbalah, environment and the Torah, and Maccabi-style sports games. The keynote speaker is Danny Siegel, a writer and speaker on teen issues. An Israeli-style dinner of falafel and salads is also planned.

JEWbilation Celebration is the brainchild of Marin Jewish Youth Contact Mitchel Adler. In planning this year's event, Adler collaborated with many Bay Area groups, including the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education and San Francisco's Congregation Sherith Israel.

Noting that Jewish teens must confront plenty of hard-hitting issues such as assimilation, intermarriage and the Holocaust, Adler said he wanted JEWbilation to have a different slant.

"Our theme this year is how kids can associate with the positive aspects of Judaism. We decided we want Bay Area teens to focus on the great things about our religion," Adler said.

JEWbilation will not be a religious-oriented event, although some of the workshops include reading Torah and examining halachah (Jewish law).

"It's going to be great," said 16-year-old Rayna Brand of San Francisco's Lincoln High School, who heads the celebration's sports committee. "We're hoping to attract all kinds of teens, but especially those who aren't that involved. We want them to see how relevant Judaism is."

Last year 40 teens attended. This year 150 are expected. Tulkin is excited about the numbers, and hopes he can impart his philosophy without preaching.

"I think this is the biggest oxymoron, that Judaism is lacking in Jewish youth groups. It's disappointing to see kids in BBYO going to secular parties Friday night.

"I hope the kids who come will see that Judaism is a beautiful thing and want to make our traditions an important part of their lives."