Even Better Together

The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

By Beth Lipschutz and Julie Marsh

When we were growing up in NFTY, the only thing better than being with our temple youth groups was when our advisors would plan an event with other youth group advisors.  This gave us the opportunity to see our friends outside of our temple walls.  Still today, teens in our congregations enjoy seeing their friends outside of regional events and outside of their own congregations. Teens today are looking for the “congregation-to-congregation” interaction.

As NFTY Regional Staff, some of the most successful programs that we have seen in our regions have developed from a partnership between synagogue professionals and teens in the same communities. We have noticed from experience that more high school supplementary education programs are combining efforts in order to better meet the needs of teens, and some temple youth groups have started partnering for events as well.

Three Florida congregations in the Miami area have come together to share youth group events and Hebrew High School events.  We have measured success by teen involvement, teen retention and teen outreach.  The three congregations will be continuing to program together next year to give their teens a larger Jewish teen community beyond their own walls.

This past year in Denver, the middle school teens from two large congregations participated in all youth group programing together.  Throughout the year, they got to know each other better, relationships were being formed and friendships were created.  The teens started to ask their own advisor when they will be seeing the other group again.  For next year, they are already working on a joint calendar as the professionals have recognized the success of community building.

The value of partnerships is clear: providing more diverse learning opportunities, facilitating relationships between a variety of teens and community leaders, and leveraging resources to maximize what we can offer in a given community.  NFTY6, a new initiative to engage teens beginning in sixth grade with age-appropriate programming, is built around this concept of partnership and collaboration, and we are excited to be a part of its launch.

NFTY6 provides an opportunity to create several different types of partnerships:

  • The first is creating partnerships among congregations.  One of the main focuses of NFTY6 is for local congregations to work in partnership with each other to create experiences for their sixth graders to come together, learn together, and have a good time together. Sixth grader participants will feel connected to the larger Jewish community as they build relationships with their peers, and others in the community. NFTY6 will be the model for focusing on the value of congregational partnerships.
  • Another partnership is with adult mentors. NFTY6 will focus on engaging adults, especially young alumni, and providing them with an opportunity to take on leadership roles and build relationships with teen leaders, sixth graders and their families. The NFTY6 model will provide an avenue for young alumni to build relationships with NFTY staff, as well as congregational staff, and create a new opportunity for alumni and college students to participate meaningfully in congregational life.
  • Most importantly, the sixth graders will build partnerships with teen leaders and with each other, offering relatable role models in a safe, nurturing, and welcoming environment.

We are building NFTY6 around the best principles we have seen in our communities.  Here are some that you can model in your community:

  1. Facilitate the creation of a safe space for sixth graders from different congregations to build relationships with each other.  Start the dialogue between congregations, get teens excited to meet each other and utilize community resources to create innovative experiences.
  2. Experiment with integrating formal and informal learning opportunities
  3. Provide opportunities for young alumni to reconnect through mentoring
  4. Encourage staff and lay leadership from your congregation to participate in informal educational programming opportunities with your teens
  5. Try something new with content, location, or timing
  6. Reach out to your NFTY regional staff to begin a conversation about creating meaningful experiences for younger age teens together

We are currently building our partnerships with congregations, alumni, and teens as we prepare to launch our first NFTY6 programming in the fall.  We are excited to introduce a new generation of teens to NFTY as they begin their individual Jewish journeys at such a critical moment in their lives.  We’ll keep you updated as we continue to learn and experiment and we’d love to hear from you.  Contact us at: blipschutz@urj.org and jmarsh@urj.org.

Beth Lipschutz has been the NFTY Missouri Valley Regional Director of Youth Engagement since fall 2011.  She graduated from the University of Missouri with a BS in Elementary Education and attended the University of Denver where she earned her MSW.  Before working for NFTY, she was a local youth group advisor, teacher, school social worker and summer camp staff member at Shwayder Camp in Colorado. Additionally, she has worked as an inclusion specialist in several different camp communities and continue to support the NFTY staff in including teens with disabilities in programming.  She’ll be teaching the Mitzvah Corps Major at Kutz for the second summer.

Julie Marsh currently resides in Palm Beach County Florida, where she is beginning her 4th year as the Regional Advisor of NFTY-STR. Before working for NFTY she was a local temple youth group advisor & Religious School Teacher for 5 years in NFTY-GER and 10 years at Temple Israel in NFTY-STR.  She spends her time working together with Youth Professionals, Clergy, Temple Professionals and lay leaders to find meaningful ways to engage teens.  When she is not encouraging youth to be leaders, Julie enjoys painting, spending time with her daughter Kiley, husband Lee, dog Sweet Pea & her friends & family.  

Journal of Youth Engagement

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