Learn more about this exciting new platform, where Reform congregational leaders connect with colleagues and peers who have similar concerns, interests and responsibilities.
In my six years as the youth group director at Temple Sinai in in Stamford, CT, we have seen lots of growth. Year after year, more and more teens are attending NFTY events, spending summers at URJ camps, and embarking on life-changing trips through URJ teen programs.
With this increased participation has come curiosity, knowledge, and awareness of the broader Union for Reform Judaism and Reform Jewish community as a whole.
A couple of years ago, this curiosity hit a new peak: For the first time in Temple Sinai’s history, teens joined clergy, staff, and lay leaders at the URJ Biennial in Boston in 2017. The whole temple community was excited about this; many people approached me and commented on what a great opportunity it was for these teens.
They weren’t wrong, but my response was usually, “Yes, and it is also really great for all of Temple Sinai!” Having teens engaged in Jewish life benefits the teens themselves, of course, but it also has far-reaching effects in the congregation and broader community.
Here are four ways sending teens to Biennial changed Temple Sinai for the better:
1. Teens discovered new ideas and found inspiration.
By including our teens in multi-generational learning experiences like Biennial, we are giving them experiences that come back to our congregation. Our teens had an opportunity to schmooze with both teens and adults from congregations across North America. They got to hear about their youth groups, their religious schools, and their communities.
The teens were pushed to think about their future as members of the Reform Jewish community and were inspired to take what they learned and use it to innovate in our community.
2. Teens returned home energized and committed.
Being a part of this bigger-than-yourself experience, our teens returned home feeling a sense of ownership over our future as a congregation. They were filled with energy and excitement that overflowed into every aspect of temple life. They started pushing the envelope, and encouraged me, among others, to do the same.
Together, we brainstormed, planned, and executed new ideas; it’s changed our way of thinking, and we’re still seeing the benefits nearly two years later.
3. They’re taking on leadership roles and are serving as role models for younger children and teens.
Biennial had a direct impact on teens taking on leadership roles: becoming madrichim (teaching assistants) in our religious school, taking on leadership roles on our temple youth group board, and even joining the NFTY regional board. In addition to the formal leadership roles, these teens are role models for their siblings and younger teens and children in our congregation.
When they attend events such as Biennial, and take on these types of leadership roles, it starts to build a culture around participation and leadership. The younger groups can’t wait to be involved, attend events like Biennial, and become leaders themselves.
4. They deepened their connection with Judaism
Teens returned home from Biennial exuding confidence and excitement about their Judaism that spread through the congregation. We’ve seen higher rates of participation in Shabbat and holiday events thanks to these engaged teens. They’re ensuring a strong future for our congregation; they’re our future lay leaders, Jewish professionals, clergy, and engaged members.
Let’s be real: Part of the draw of Biennial was that the teens would be able to reconnect with the friends from across North America that they made while attending NFTY events, at camp, and on teen travel programs. They loved getting to learn and pray with these friends, participate in song sessions, eat meals together, and explore the city – but they left with so much more than just fun memories.
By investing in our youth, we (clergy, staff, and lay leaders) are demonstrating for our congregation that we value our youth and the potential they have to be successful in all that they seek to accomplish in life – whether it’s in our congregation, at school, or in extracurricular activities.
They have a deeper understanding of all that Jewish life has to offer. They understand that these teens are already leaders, and that we want them to step up and make the changes they want to say. Needless to say, teens will be a part of our Biennial delegation again this year.
Register now for the URJ Biennial, the largest Jewish gathering in North America, held December 11-15, 2019, in Chicago, IL. Join thousands of Jews from around the world to learn, pray, share ideas, dance and sing, hear from inspiring speakers, reunite with old friends, create new connections, and more.
Have something to say about this post? Join the conversation in The Tent, the communications and collaboration platform for congregational leaders of the Reform Movement. You can also tweet us or tell us how you feel on Facebook.