Why I Waste so Much Time Blogging About Youth Engagement



An out-of-state rabbi called me to learn more about how Congregation Or Ami developed our Future Coaches teen learning program. He read about it on my blog.

A temple president emailed me from another city to discover the secret behind our 45-person strong delegation to our Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Newman. He read about it on my blog.

An older congregant sent a donation for the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund to be used for NFTY kallah and camp scholarships. He kvelled about the value of these events and the importance of these scholarships, which he saw reflected in my blog.

A parent from our congregation thanked me for reassuring her that opportunities still exist for young people to grapple with their Judaism, beliefs about God, and self-identity. Reassured by reading my blog, she asked to talk more about the upcoming temple retreat and about summer camp.

A teen texted me her thanks for praising her work in the youth group (discussed on my blog) while another Facebooked me about her experiences at our recent Muslim-Jewish interfaith dinner (which later became a blog post).

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Each encounter – by phone, email, Facebook, or text, and others by tweet and Instagram – grew out of blog-based encounters between us. Some of these people I know; many of us met only through the invisible lines of connection of the Internet.

According to the stats page, I have spent hundreds of hours writing and editing some 827 posts on my blog, Or Am I? Over the past few years, I have “wasted” a vast majority of this time sharing stories and analyses about the intentional work of engaging our youth in Jewish life.

Why do I waste so much time blogging about youth engagement?

Seeing is Believing
By posting pictures and circulating these stories online, we create a reality that gains everyone’s notice. The teens themselves, their parents, our board members and community funders soon recognize that Congregation Or Ami (or Camp Newman, or the Union for Reform Judaism) are doing amazing things to engage youth. If they see it online, they tend to believe it. If they believe it, they will participate, prod their teens to get involved, support our youth engagement vision, and fund it, too.

Sharing Stories Leads to Partnerships
As our youth engagement achievements (and at times, our failures) become heard and seen, others view these stories as invitations for conversations about best principles, surmounting difficult obstacles, and articulating a vision that is both easily understood yet as nuanced as our teens. New ideas and new directions quickly surface; new partnerships arise with other practitioners.

Counter the Disbelievers
When we succeed in turning our teens onto Jewish experiences, the success is so counter-cultural that we need to shine a light on the moment. Blog posts let the disbelievers take note: through hard work, constant networking, investing time in relationship-building, it is possible to engage a larger percentage of our teens in Jewish life.

Inspiring Stories Demand to be Told
When a teen explains how fulfilled he feels after creating and facilitating a social justice project through our VolunTEENS track, the world needs to hear.

When a young person discovers over a basketball game a shared interest in all things sports with a Muslim preteen, the encounter demands we take notice.

When a parent leaves a teen-led arts Shabbat and gushes with warm words about the poignancy of the experience, others need to hear his enthusiasm.

It would be almost sinful to leave these stories untold because the world needs to hear and read about positive experiences among teens.

A New Online Journal is Born!
I welcome the Union for Reform Judaism’s online Journal of Youth Engagement. I hope it becomes the address for serious conversations about youth work, as other youth workers, camp professionals, parents, educators, rabbis and others feel empowered to share their stories. I dream that we can share best principles and discuss the latest data research in the field.

Why do I waste so much time blogging about youth engagement? Because these glorious teens demand the most attentive leaders and open experiences so they might delve deeper into their Jewish lives. I hope and know that this Journal of Youth Engagement can be just that.

Create conversation. Reflect on the articles presented. Articulate your own ideas and pass them on. Share it with others.

And of course, may our conversations be civil and our dreaming be limitless, and may this new Journal lead us to meaningful Jewish encounters.

The conversation begins.

We invite you to write and share with the editors.

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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 teaches Pastoral Counseling in the Rabbinical School and serves as a member of the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education clinical faculty at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. He serves as Rabbinic Dean at Camp Newman in Santa Rosa and chair of the Revenue Enhancement Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Kipnes 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. This and his other writings can be viewed on his blog, Or Am I?. He tweets @RabbiKip.

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