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This fall, the Northeast Teen Collective's first annual Northeast Leadership Summit at URJ Camp Eisner inspired more than 250 Jewish teens to create projects and initiatives about issues important to them. As a participant at the first-ever Northeast Leadership Summit, I found myself most inspired by the realness of what we did.
The Northeast Teen Collective is an ambitious initiative to increase the number of teens participating in Jewish life throughout New York, New Jersey, and New England. The Collective empowers highly engaged teens to use their individual passions as inspiration to create meaningful Jewish experiences that will capture the interest of their less involved friends. Through Machon Summer Leadership Institute at URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camps, the Dana Gershon and Rabbi Jonah Pesner Northeast Leadership Summit, and ongoing Pop-up and Co-op Events – all powered by the Union for Reform Judaism in partnership with Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Jim Joseph Foundation – the Collective inspires more young Jewish teens to embrace Jewish life and community as a path to meaning, purpose, and joy.
Not only did I learn new skills, like marketing, but I also helped to create real initiatives and projects that are already impacting so many (see #SharkTankMuseum for more details). Even more, the volunteer staff of more than 50 educators included some real giants in the Jewish world and as well as some personal role models, such as Rabbi Jonah Pesner and Rabbi Everett Gendler. Just to be in the same room with them and hear them speak was empowering! The Summit had four main learning themes: gender and sexuality, Israel, Mussar and mindfulness, and social justice.
One of the workshops on Israel motivated me to work with my friends to create a new initiative focused on Israel education and advocacy.
Growing up in Hebrew School, I remember talking about Israel – the land, the people, and our connection to it. We talked about Israel as a Jewish state, why that should matter to us, and what it means to love this far away homeland. My experience at the Summit challenged me to continue and deepen that conversation.
I often hear Jewish teens proclaim their love for the Jewish homeland, shouting, “I love Israel!” amidst a crowd of NFTY-ites in IDF shirts. Although some teens are very involved and well-educated on the topic of Israel, many don’t have much experience from Israel apart from what we hear on the news – and it can be difficult to get a real sense aboofut Israel just from that. We’re expected to love and support Israel, but we’re not really taught why, or how, or that one can love Israel and disagree with some of her government’s decisions. Statistics show that our generation is the least supportive generation of Israel thus far.
This reality inspired me to create Yallah Israel, a club for NFTY-NE participants to talk about Israel, share their ideas, educate themselves, and address their relationship with the Holy Land. Yallah Israel is meant to be a safe space where people feel 100% comfortable expressing any and all of their ideas about Israel.
Israel can be a taboo subject among Jewish teens, especially when someone has something negative to say, but the premise of this club is to create an environment for learning, dialogue, and honest discussion about Israel. Yallah Israel is open to everyone, whether you’ve written 10 essays about Israel or you have no knowledge of it at all. The goal of Yallah Israel is for everyone interested in engaging in learning, talking, and debating all things Israel to be able to do so in a comfortable way.
To start, club meetings take place at regional NFTY events, with the hope of expanding. Our meeting agenda will allow for learning, discussion, debate, and reflection, ultimately helping participants to gain a richer knowledge of Israel, find friends with common beliefs, defend their arguments, and be challenged to be open to others point of view. Let’s start talking!
Shira Hoffer is a ninth grader and a member of MANTY at Temple Adath Yeshurun in Manchester, NH.