A friend in college once told me, "Aaron, you see the good in others that they can't see themselves." I look at our youth group leaders and see the drive and motivation to be seen, to be heard, and to succeed. And on October 3, 2021, in spite of a whirlwind of Covid chaos, they proved how well they can adapt and how much they can accomplish when given the opportunity.
It all began in April 2021, when I invited 3 other temple youth directors (Kara Liu, Temple Israel of Long Beach;Samantha Duenas, Temple Kol Tikvah; and Rabbi Dalia Samansky, Temple Ahavat Shalom) to plan a TYG Virtual Board Training. While we saw this as a great start for a collaborative event, our teen leaders, who had been on Zoom for the last year in all aspects of their lives, pushed back. They wanted to engage with their peers in person. It took little convincing for us to see that they were right.
By the time we reserved a location for the retreat at a camp in Simi Valley, another 3 temple youth groups had signed on. And by the end of summer, as TYG programs and religious school began, we grew to 10 congregations and youth groups:
- Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
- Temple Israel of Long Beach
- Temple Ahavat Shalom of Northridge
- Temple Kol Tikvah of Woodland Hills
- Congregation B'nai B'rith of Santa Barbara
- Temple Beth El of San Pedro
- Temple Ramat Zion of Northridge
- Temple Beth Israel of Pomona
- JQSA of JQ International in Los Angeles
- NFTY SoCAL
Teen board members selected topics for the program sessions, giving them a chance to collaborate with peers representing different congregations who serve in parallel leadership positions and understand the challenges and opportunities of being a TYG leader. By leaning on one another for ideas, guidance and support, the 57 youth participants learned many leadership skills, none more valuable that seeing how much more can be accomplished by working together.
By all measures the training retreat was a huge success. Here are some of the youth participants' and TYG Advisors' responses:
"I don't think it would have gotten nearly the same gratification had the retreat been online. Seeing everybody online doesn't compare to seeing everybody's happy faces in person in a positive environment. " - Maya Gibson - Temple Emanuel Social Action Vice President
"The retreat has helped me to feel empowered. It taught me how to plan programs and network with other communities." - Clara Davidson, SAVP at Tzelem/JQ International
"It was a great opportunity to network with other teens across SoCal and to learn how other boards are handling similar challenges." - Landon Block, NFTY SoCAL PVP
"My key takeaway from this retreat was the importance of teamwork and making sure that everyone is doing their part." - Ethan Stone, President at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
"I got a lot of new ideas for events." - Talia Ellis, 9th Grade Rep at Congregation B'nai B'rith of Santa Barbara.
Reviews from adult temple professionals were equally gratifying:
"It was incredible to be together in person again with teens and watch them learn, grow, and create memories." -- Brooke Botwinick, TYG Advisor at TAS
"The TYG board training not only gave me teen leader tools and resources but gave me access to a community of other Jewish teen professionals and the time for us as staff to learn from one another best practices in this field." -- Sasha Dominguez, Director of Education and Inclusion at JQ International
"I'm so proud that Aaron took on the leadership role of organizing 10 different youth groups from all over Southern California to provide a meaningful teen retreat. His leadership is an example of what happens when we embrace partnership with other Jewish organizations rather than fearing it because we are too worried that we might lose our ' members ' to ' them.' He set the example for our teens that they too can build meaningful Jewish worlds by working together with others. - Rabbi Adam Lutz, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
I am incredibly excited to have built a strong bond with these colleagues and look forward to our next community-wide youth event.