10 Ways to Welcome Teens at the High Holidays

Looking for innovative opportunities to engage your teens around the High Holidays? These 10 ideas come directly from the source – youth professionals across North America.

1. Communicate in their medium. Use text messages, Instagram and other teen-friendly channels for communicating directly with your teens about teen-specific opportunities. Follow up with parent-friendly emails.

2. Invite teens to be ushers. Start the welcoming at the door by inviting teens to be ushers, where they’ll be visible, interact with people of all ages, and have an integral role during our holiest day of the year.

3. Set aside space for them. Let’s face it: sitting through services for an extended period of time is challenging, especially for high-energy, growing adolescents! Setting aside space for teens to retreat, reflect and recharge helps sustain their energy and make the days enjoyable.

4. Invite them onto the Bimah. Invite teens onto the Bimah for an Aliyah, blessing or other worship role.

5. Involve teens in creating youth-specific experiences… Involve teens in planning a service for younger children, or crafting a teen service or Torah study.

6. …but don’t sequester them! Create opportunities for teens to be together as a community during festive meals, breaks, or other events, but also encourage them to attend congregational services and celebrations to be part of the full community.

7. Set expectations: What’s important is not necessarily coming to services. Engage them in reflection about why the holidays are meaningful for them.

8. Engage them in tzedakah. Involve them in planning and implementing a social justice project for the entire congregation to participate in.

9. Location, location, location. Sit near the doors of the sanctuary so you can schmooze with kids, teens and parents as they’re entering and exiting services.

10. Network. Do you have a youth group board, or a cadre of teen leaders? Provide them with business cards, flyers and calendars to ensure that every teen gets a personal invitation to the next event.

Want more? Continue this conversation in the Youth Engagement group in The Tent.

Many thanks to the following youth professionals, educators and rabbis for sharing their ideas!

Andy Harkavy, NFTY Ohio Valley Region, Cincinnati, OH
Barak Malkin, Temple Sinai, Glendale, CA
Barrett Harr, NFTY Michigan Region, Detroit, MI
Brett Lubarsky, Temple Beth Elohim, Wellesley, MA
Carly Cera, Temple Beth Israel, Austin, TX
Dan Lange, Union for Reform Judaism, New York, NY
Hope Chernak, Temple Shaaray Tefila, New York, NY
Ira Miller, Washington Hebrew Congregation, Washington, D.C.
Jessie Downey, University Synagogue, Venice, CA
Rabbi PJ Schwartz, Temple Israel, Westport, CT

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Elena Dufner

About Elena Dufner

Elena Dufner is the program manager for the Union for Reform Judaism Youth team and oversees Just Act NYC, a summer theater program for Jewish teens in New York. She grew up attending URJ Greene Family Camp in Bruceville, TX, where she developed a love for Jewish music, s’mores, and color wars.

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