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Today’s studies and statistics provide proof that engaged youngsters become actively practicing Jewish adults. While practicing remains a matter of degree, anyone who has worked with young people recognizes that relationships built during these formative years facilitate engagement long after the conclusion of temple youth group days. Creating those relationships requires incredibly dedicated adults who see significant value and promise in their work with young people.
But creating a nurturing environment for relationships to flourish requires thoughtful, sometimes subtle planning. There are best practices. There are pitfalls to avoid. How can someone new to youth work gain insights? How can someone who has been working with teens for years be rejuvenated and re-inspired?
If you work with Jewish youth and are asking yourself these questions, I propose you attend the URJ Youth Summit at NFTY Convention in Atlanta, February 13-17. You will have the opportunity to meet like-minded peers, and build professional relationships to share the agonies and ecstasies of youth work!
What happens at NFTY Convention that makes the expense and the time spent away from family worthwhile? Years of experience in the adult volunteer sector has taught me that enthusiasm is contagious. Being with like-minded youth advocates allows youth professionals – especially young adults – to know that what they have chosen for their life work makes a real difference in people’s lives and that they have chosen well.
As a NFTY alum and adult lay leader, I want to model how valuable it is to be and stay involved. My connection to Reform Judaism has never been a momentary part of my life, but rather a lifetime endeavor. I believe it is critically important for teens to know that adults care about and respect them. They need to know that adults want to share conversations to learn what is important to them and their peers. The Youth Summit helps advisers learn to listen, to channel teen energy, and to be both a friend and a mentor (while still the adult) in all situations.
Two years ago, my husband, granddaughter, and I traveled to California to experience NFTY Convention together. As the Centennial Chair for Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), I was invited to announce the winner of the WRJ Centennial NFTY Essay Competition and bring greetings to NFTYites on behalf of WRJ. (The creation of NFTY is one of the most celebrated highlights of the 100-year history of WRJ). Talk about perks of the job! Whenever I spend time with NFTYites, our local temple youth group, or at URJ Camp Harlam, I feel like I’ve tasted the fountain of youth. There’s nothing like being with 1,000 teens who are singing, cheering, and loving being Jewish!
Indeed, watching and listening to NFTYites is a terrific learning experience for everyone. It restores confidence in our Jewish future. My congregation is hosting NFTY-PAR’s winter event, WINSTY, in January. It’s a lot of work and a huge commitment, but Rabbi Jack Paskoff told our Board of Trustees, “When we have a PAR event in Lancaster, the entire congregation is enriched. Everyone feels the energy. Our kids, even the younger ones, feel the connection.” Our rabbi has role-modeled for us how a congregation is strengthened by its engaged youngsters. His influence and consistent interest in the leaders of tomorrow makes our 350-family congregation a leader in our Movement.
If you want to participate in NFTY Convention and the URJ Youth Summit, make time. Ask for financial help from every organization in your community. Their investment in your attendance will reap rewards your congregation can’t imagine. Go and drink from the fountain of youth!