The Joys of Being a Rabbi: Engaging Teens

Confirmation is a reaffirmation of all that Congregation Or Ami is about. I wish you could have been there. On Friday night, 7 Or Ami teenagers – Jessa Cameron, Libby Coufal, Nathan Fried, Ben Ginsburg, Dakota Keller, Marissa Meyer, and Peter Young – stood on our bimah to articulate those values and experiences which bind them to our Jewish tradition and community. Listening to them speak, my eyes misted over.

I remember watching each one of them grow up, some since they were infants. We rabbis and cantor have the unique privilege of walking the journey with our teens as they matured into Jewish adulthood. We smile at memories of them singing with joy at Shabbat services, laughing as they learned in religious school, and chanting ancient words from an ancient scroll as they traversed the divide between childhood and adulthood. We watch them assume leadership roles in our LOMPTY temple youth group. We kvelled alongside their parents every step of the way. We remember the challenges of their teenage years, the sadness shared during family illness and loss, the joy of graduations and simchas.

Campaign for Youth EngagementOur North American Reform Movement, the Union for Reform Judaism, has told us that after years of post-Bar/Bat Mitzvah dropouts, the future of our Jewish people rests on our ability to engage our youth through high school. What makes for such engagement?

  • The creation of relationships between our youth beginning when they are young
  • The developing of connections between our youth and their rabbis and cantor
  • The use of social media to build community among our teens and their clergy
  • Openness to asking deep questions, and to talking about difficult subjects
  • Willingness to offer unconditional love and acceptance

But mostly, as we listened to these teens confirm their connection to Torah, Jewish tradition and the Jewish people, I realized how deeply I love these future adults. So I gave them each my business card (complete with my email, facebook, twitter and cell phone number) with the promise that the relationships will endure and their rabbis and cantor will be there for them always.

I know we will remain in touch. Because Or Ami’s former teens – now adults – stay in touch regularly. We go out for coffee, to grab sushi, for help with a paper, and joyously, to plan the ceremony when they will bind their lives under a chuppah with their beloved.

Confirmation offered a glimpse into the future, and a peak into the past. All wrapped up in Judaism. That’s the work of being a rabbi; that’s the joy of the Confirmation ceremony.

Read more: In their own words: 7 Inspiring Teens Speak Out About Being Jews

This blog post original appear at Or Am I?

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Rabbi Paul Kipnes

About Rabbi Paul Kipnes

Rabbi Paul Kipnes the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA. He serves as rabbinic dean at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA, and as vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Kipnes and his wife Michelle November co-wrote Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness (Jewish Lights). He also co-edited a national CCAR Journal issue on New Visions for Jewish Community. Under his leadership, Congregation Or Ami has won national awards for social justice programming, for innovative worship programming, for outreach to interfaith families, and for engaging family education, and for best overall use of technology in a synagogue. Or Ami also wins the hearts of its families for its Henaynu caring community, which reaches out during times of need. He serves on the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education clinical faculty at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. His writings can be viewed on his blog, Or Am I? He tweets @RabbiKip.

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