In an effort to encourage him to socialize with more Jewish peers, his parents encouraged him to join Center Youth, a Jewish youth group… Ken pointed out laughing that most parents encourage their children to join Center Youth in hopes that they will find a nice Jewish spouse.
– Nicole Mitchell, summarizing her interview with Ken Slosberg (b. 1944)
A Jewish youth group, Center Youth, was a widespread phenomenon with chapters all over the state of Maine. The goal of Center Youth was socialization with other Jewish high schoolers. The youth group held events and outings for the high schoolers, which allowed them to meet other youth from around the state. As is echoed by Ken Slosberg from Gardiner, many Jewish adults reflect upon Center Youth as a teen dating organization. Many parents hoped that through their teen’s participation in the youth group, they would find a suitable mate.
There were just a few other Jews in my class. One or two were in my social group, so to speak. But in terms of the way we socialized and all, it really was whatever the mainstream culture was. There was nothing that separated us in that case. Except for, I told you there was that group called Center Youth. That was the only time I really socialized with Jews and there was some sort of Jewish influence to socialization… Now, that was pretty exotic to me, just to meet other Jews for one thing and Jews that came from what I thought were cities, Portland and Bangor and Lewiston, with Gardiner being so small and all. And it was all social, so that was exciting just for the idea of it. I mean, part of the idea was just to enhance and collocate any Jewish culture. We went to shul on Friday night and all the activities were around the shul, but there wasn’t much religious to it except for maybe Friday night services. Well, the exciting part was girls for me. It was a chance to date girls that was all sort of set up and enhanced that way. We always had a great time. I don’t know if everybody did or not, I’m trying to think if there were kids who went because their parents kind of pushed them to go and they didn’t really care… maybe in the host cities that might be the case, but the kids who were traveling to the cities, at least the kids I knew that were going to these things, that was kind of a schlep for them so they were probably going because they were enthusiastic about it. And I think that, you know, there were friendships that were made through that that continued past the activities. I’m trying to think about how many activities we had. I dunno, there’d be one, maybe two events a year. But then once you get to know kids, then maybe I was invited to, I guess, Portland kids used to do some kind of big weekend in Old Orchard, where they went without adult supervision… And this was like, I’d died and gone to heaven, and I’m sure we made big asses of ourselves in those situations. But that was very exciting and I think I was allowed to go to one of those weekends…Yeah, that was big city stuff for me. That was all part of growing up when you can first go off on your own, and you can have a car and drive and date. So the idea of Center Youth as much as anything for that organization was Jewish socialization. Getting to do those dating things and rites of passage in terms of dating in a Jewish situation with other Jews.
– Ken Slosberg