4 Ways to Welcome Youth this Holiday Season – and Strengthen Your Congregation

Inside Leadership

4 Ways to Welcome Youth this Holiday Season – and Strengthen Your Congregation

Smiling teens eating apples dipped in honey

The gates of summer camp are closed. The High Holidays recipe books are open. Our days are filled with preparation and meetings and cooking and school forms as the scent of summer lingers on the cooling air.

As we turn the page on our calendars – or swipe to a new month on our phones – we are acutely aware of this moment in time. Our young people are seeing the same tweets and headlines we’re fretting about. They’re grappling with the role of faith in their lives and the complexities of current events. They’re balancing these big, complicated ideas with the joy and fun and self-discovery of adolescence.

As the URJ’s vice president of youth, I spent summer on the road, visiting our programs, meeting with congregational leaders and teens, and immersing in joyous Judaism alongside our participants. But while summer may be ending, the learning, discovery, and growth that each young person experiences – whether at camp, on an Israel trip, or with Mitzvah Corps – powers us all year long.

It spills into the halls of our congregations. It flows through NFTY, connects alumni on college campuses around the world, and inspires hundreds of adults who mentor our youth. And more than anything, it fills me with hope about the possibilities in the year ahead.

During the coming weeks, many young people will enter our midst – sitting in pews, participating in teen-led services, asking questions of their parents and themselves. Let’s make the most of this holiday season by connecting to the voices and needs of our young people.

Here are four ways to strengthen your congregation by intentionally welcoming children and teens into your holiday observance:

  1. Map out and publicize opportunities for youth and teens during the holidays. Does your congregation host a family service? Do your teens lead a text study for their peers? Identify all your activities for young people and actively publicize them in your bulletin, on your website, on social media, and by word of mouth (or text message!). Check out  10 ideas from youth professionals for welcoming teens at the holidays.
  2. Involve people of all ages. Model the idea that you don’t have to wait to participate. Invite your youth group president to give an aliyah or share reflections with your board. Involve teens as ushers and service leaders. Choose a melody that will be familiar to all. Seek out ways for everyone to engage with the rich traditions of our faith.
  3. Share resources with families to enrich their celebration. We’ve rounded up High Holiday resources for teen programming and services in the Tent – and you can add your own resources to this collection, too. Whether a High Holiday social justice guide or a how-to video for blowing the shofar, ReformJudaism.org offers resources (and lots of holiday recipes!) for everyone.
  4. Open dialogue between teens and adults. Head to The Tent to check out 5 resources from URJ Kutz Camp for starting a conversation, studying text together, and enhancing relationships through shared reflection rooted in Jewish tradition.

Our sacred responsibility to nurture the character of our children is more important than ever. This work – the task of kindling the flame of Judaism until it sparks and gains its own momentum – is privileged work, and I am honored to partner with you in it. Shanah tovah – may it be a sweet new year.  

Have something to say about this post? Join the conversation in The Tent, the social network for congregational leaders of the Reform Movement. You can also tweet us or tell us how you feel on Facebook.

Miriam T. Chilton is the Union for Reform Judaism's vice president of youth; she previoulsy served as director of strategy, operations, and finance, for URJ Youth, Camp and Israel Programs. Miriam holds a master of arts in business administration and a master of science in information systems from Boston University, as well as a bachelor of arts in political science from Ithaca College. When she's not out in the field trying to engage more young people, Miriam is an active member of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, N.J.

Miriam T. Chilton
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