by Kara Liu
Youth engagement is about more than just teens. Rather, effective youth engagement is a whole organism made up of parents, leaders, and the young people themselves.
That’s the main takeaway from my experience at a recent day of professional development at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, organized by Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, director of youth engagement for the Union for Reform Judaism. At the seminar, I came to fully appreciate the network of colleagues who are doing youth engagement work – and I learned that I, too, am a bridge connecting all the entities of youth engagement to my temple family and our youth group.
Three years ago, my congregation set out on a journey to try to create an active teen presence, something our community had been missing. As a part of this effort, we sent our new ninth grade class to a regional NFTY kallah. At the event, our excited teens made new friends, experienced NFTY’s shared history and culture, and immersed themselves in the joys of Reform Judaism. They were a little bit lost when they arrived, but by the end of the weekend, the teens knew one thing: They wanted to bring the magic of NFTY back to our synagogue.
That’s how our youth group began.