From the Director’s Desk: Teen Voices in Our Work



The three pieces we have assembled for you in this issue of the Journal of Youth Engagement have several elements in common that are worth highlighting. As youth professionals, Becky, PJ and Laura all point to the need to ensure that teen voices are being heard.First – since we know our programs are most attractive when they are relevant and meaningful to our teen audience, it is vital to bring them into the thinking and planning process. Sometimes, obtaining teen input isn’t easy. The most important voices can be the hardest ones to find, because they are the teens who are not participating. We have to figure out how to reach them, and we are finding that teens are often the best people to reach their own peers.

Another element we’ve learned is that – in order to be most helpful – teens benefit from clearly framed questions, to which they can answer with constructive comments. Today’s teens often don’t know how to answer the question: “what else can we be doing? Or “what is next on your Jewish journey?” They don’t see themselves as being on Jewish journeys! So we, as youth professionals, need to step back and ask them questions they are comfortable and able to answer.

Perhaps ones like: “how do you spend your ‘down’ time?” Or “what causes do you care most about?” Or “what do you want to do that is not being offered in our community?” Our youth don’t realize that, more often than not, there are connections between their own commitments, interests, and passions – and Jewish life. It’s our job to demonstrate these connections. We can’t always expect them to see or imagine these opportunities.

The last common thread between these three journal pieces – is the vital role clergy play in youth engagement. Just being physically present makes a significant difference. When clergy (and other Jewish youth professionals) ask teens questions about what is important to them, it helps them strengthen connections between their daily lives and Jewish practice. Teens appreciate it when they are noticed, when they feel they count, when what they are doing matters to other people.

Our clergy can make sure their teens know them, and have access to them. That their doors, like PJ’s door, are always open – physically, by text, or even online. Our world is challenging for us, and all the more so for our teens. Being present for them and seeking out their thoughts and ideas are foundational elements of youth engagement.

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Rabbi Bradley Solmsen

About Rabbi Bradley Solmsen

Bradley Solmsen serves as the North American Director of Youth Engagement for the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). For eleven years Bradley served as Director of Brandeis University’s Office of High School Programs which includes BIMA, Genesis, and Impact: Boston. Rabbi Solmsen was ordained at The Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and received a masters degree in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He has extensive experience as a Jewish educator in Israel and North America working with teenagers and college students and training Jewish educators. Bradley is married to Aliza Kline and is the proud abba of Ela, Gila and Nomi.

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