How 250 Jewish Teens Are Changing the Face of Youth Engagement

Inside Leadership

How 250 Jewish Teens Are Changing the Face of Youth Engagement

“Leadership is not about telling people what to do but inspiring people to come together to create amazing results because you facilitate the living of their deepest, most meaningful passions and purpose!” –The Charmm’d Foundation

The inaugural Dana Gershon and Rabbi Jonah Pesner Northeast Leadership Summit focused on creating a new and innovative structure to enable Jewish teens to find their purpose and bring it to life. Attended by more than 250 teens and 60 faculty members and staffers from 20+ organizations, we came together to learn, ideate, and elevate a new cohort of Jewish teen leaders.


On Friday night of the event, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center, set the stage with a keynote address that challenged us to think about what it means to take a risk and stand up for what you believe in: What inspires you to take action? Participants and faculty alike took hold of Rabbi Pesner’s inspiring words and used them to navigate through their time at the Summit. One teen participant shared, “I was really inspired by Rabbi Jonah Pesner's speech during the Shabbat service on Friday night. I also really enjoyed the workshops that I participated in, and after this weekend, and I feel that my leadership skills have increased.”


In small, self-selected workshops led by expert faculty from a variety of non-profit and Jewish organizations (see the full list), participants acquired new Judaic knowledge in the areas of gender and sexuality, Israel, Mussar and mindfulness, and social justice. Teens were encouraged to think about how they can inspire others and create concrete experiences for others based upon the new knowledge gained in the workshops. Said one teen participant, “I was able to learn more about different topics and how they relate back to Judaism. I became more interested in what's going on around the world.” See the full list of #KNOWLEDGE workshops.


In a second set of small, self-selected workshops, participants heard examples of how others turned their passions into real experiences; learned a new skill specific to their workshop; and began to think about how to translate their ideas into tangible outcomes.

By the end of this workshop, participants identified at least one idea that was translated into an experience or product for the sake of Jewish engagement or community; practiced or implemented the new strategy or skill that they learned about during the workshop; identified the theme and a general project idea that they wanted to focus on for their #SharkTankMuseum project (keep reading!); and named a local mentor they will contact at home to support them in the creation and implementation of their project.

Another teen participant shared, This event encouraged me to think about more than just one way to get people more involved in an event or activity. The different workshops and activities taught me different strategies that will get many different people involved.See the full list of #STRATEGY workshops.

#MARKETING and #SharkTankMuseum

The #MARKETING session gave participants some basic skills to help them create a marketing campaign and elevator pitch for the final part of the Summit experience, called the #SharkTankMuseum program. 

The #SharkTankMuseum program sought to bring exciting and innovative ideas to life. Reflecting upon their inspiration and newfound knowledge and skills, participants prepared an elevator pitch and marketing campaign, and then judges reviewed their presentations, offered critical feedback, and invested real dollars in their ideas.

In the end, we challenged participants to:

  1. Go home. Take a nap and be nice to their parents! And then…
  2. Reflect and Learn. According to John Dewey, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting upon our experiences.” We want all participants, faculty, and staff to reflect upon and learn from this innovative experience. We don’t want the learning stay stagnant as a moment in time, but rather become an ongoing reflection of learning, growth, and collaboration.
  3. Prototype. Reflect. Prototype. While we are incredibly excited about the success of the weekend, we also know we have a lot to learn as we innovate and experiment with new ideas. Just as we asked our participants to bring their ideas to life at home, so too will we reflect upon how we can strengthen this experience for the future.

One teen participant summed up the entire experience:

“Every single aspect of the weekend provided me with something meaningful to think about and reflect on whether that be the incredible speakers, all of the different workshops, and services, and especially for me, the social aspects. I have never had so many creative juices flowing; I felt like my mind was going to burst with all of the excitement! I felt refreshed and awakened by this weekend and I can honestly say that it was enlightening for me and one of the most amazing weekends of my life, and because of it I feel like a better person having been a part of it.”

Check out some of the projects that are already in motion: #polldancingchallenge #dinnerfordiscussion #indentibands. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram to learn more about the amazing projects that our teen catalysts will continue to create and implement. They will undoubtedly change the landscape of Jewish youth engagement.   

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Emily Messinger, MARE, is the inaugural director of the Northeast Teen Collective, which is an ambitious initiative to increase the number of teens participating in Jewish life throughout New York, New Jersey, and New England. Previously, Emily served as the co-director of congregational learning at Temple Isaiah in Lexington, MA. For 12 years, she held the role of director of teen engagement at Temple Isaiah, growing and strengthening youth engagement and learning in the congregation. Emily has a Masters in Jewish educational leadership from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Emily lives outside of Boston with her husband and two daughters and spends her summers at URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camps.

Emily Messinger, MARE

Published: 10/06/2016

Categories: Strengthening Congregations, Program Ideas, Youth
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