Hanukkah’s Lessons Apply to our Work with Jewish Youth



As we approach the eighth night of Hanukkah, I know I’m not alone when I say I’ve almost reached my fill of latkes! Still, I can never get my fill of family and community gatherings that are bursting with joy, spirituality, and a sense of awe for the enduring, illuminating light of the menorah.

Of all the Jewish holidays, engaging youth and families during Hanukkah always seems to be the most effortless. Maybe it’s the seasonal cheerfulness, the theme of giving, or the focus on family, but the act of lighting the menorah is a mitzvah that still speaks to all Jews – even those who are minimally engaged in Jewish life.

Hanukkah is the annual reminder of our collective ability to persist in the face of adversity, to assemble for religious freedom, and to recognize the light in the midst of darkness. Similar to the teachings of Hanukkah, the URJ’s youth engagement work is ultimately intended to repair the world by fostering a personal commitment to social justice, advocacy, and meaningful values.

There is much to learn from Hanukkah’s inherent methods of youth engagement. Here are eight Hanukkah-inspired strategies that light the way for increased youth engagement in our communities and congregations:

  1. Be welcoming: The excitement felt during Hanukkah is ubiquitous, and we know our youth engagement strategies need to be pervasive. This is why the Reform Movement has committed to creating more programs to resonate with young Jews by 2020. Learn more about our “2020 Vision” plan.
  1. Have fun: Hanukkah shows us that when we create an inspiring and enjoyable atmosphere, our ability to engage is greater. Our youth programs aim to spread enthusiasm and vitality for Jewish life.
  1. Find meaning: The eight-day festival resonates with all Jews because it reminds us to stand up for our values and beliefs. We seek to cultivate a sense of meaning and purpose for youth.
  1. Focus on kids: Creating environments for younger children to build positive connections is a prevailing strategy of our youth efforts. The earlier the connection is made, the higher the probability of youth leading an ongoing connection to Jewish life.
  1. (And adults, too): We know it’s important that parents and mentoring adults play a role in engaging young people. The Reform Movement is committed to networking with more adults to weave a network of support for the next generation.
  1. Foster Jewish identity-building: Our youth engagement strategies are devised to help guide and suppour youth as they explore their Jewish identities. Our programs are meant to deepen and strengthen Jewish identity while encouraging a safe space for exploration.
  1. Invest in learning: Hanukkah reminds us to embrace and welcome the need to implement our youth strategy by creating environments like URJ camps, NFTY, Mitzvah Corps, and Israel programs that serve as an incubator for thought and experimentation.
  1. Build community: We invite you to share with us your own Hanukkah-inspired strategies in The Tent, the Reform Movement’s new communication and collaboration platform website. We look forward to hearing your ideas!

It’s with great excitement that I look forward to championing the youth engagement strategy and continuing to work with you to strengthen youth work that will infuse our congregations and sacred communities with vitality and hope.

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Miriam Chilton

About Miriam Chilton

Miriam Chilton is the URJ's Vice-President of Youth; prior to this, she served as Director of Strategy, Operations and Finance for URJ Youth, Camp and Israel Programs. Miriam has a Master of Arts in Business Administration and Master of Science in Information Systems from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts, Political Science from Ithaca College. When not out in the field trying to engage more young people, she is an active member of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, N.J.

One Response to “Hanukkah’s Lessons Apply to our Work with Jewish Youth”

  1. avatar
    Marilynn and Paul Yentis Reply December 24, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Congratulations on the new title and all it implies. We look forward to seeing you at the Youth Summit and on behalf of ny grandchildren we thank you for all you do.

    M & P

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