Essential Lessons for Educating Jewish Teens

October 25, 2015

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


Over the past several years, the Jim Joseph Foundation has invested significant time and resources into deepening our understanding of how the Jewish community can better engage teens in effective, compelling Jewish learning experiences. Two essential lessons we have learned are that:

  • Having a meaningful influence on teens in any context starts by taking a genuine interest in what matters most to them.
  • The role of adults is to work with teens, in partnership, to help them to create Jewish learning experiences they seek.

What can we, as a Jewish community, do to support these teens?

  • Encourage our best and brightest to devote their professional and/or volunteer talents towards working with teens. Provide these adults with high quality training in Jewish experiential education and adolescent development. Offer appropriate incentives to ensure that adults who work with teens receive the respect and compensation they deserve.
  • Provide many more experiences for teens to step into leadership roles in the Jewish community. This applies not only to programs for teens specifically, but across all of our organizations. Invite teens to have internships, take on board positions, attend and speak at conferences, contribute their voice to writing projects, and help plan and lead new initiatives.
  • Support our teen leaders by ensuring that they have adults who are ready to work in partnership with them to help them succeed in their leadership roles. We must remember to see these teens not as ‘leaders of the future’ but rather as ‘leaders of today.’
  • Help teens cultivate their own sense of why Judaism matters to them by allowing them to know and understand our own relationships to Judaism. If Judaism is going to be relevant to them as teens, we have to model how and why it is relevant to us as adults.

For any Jewish adults who are apprehensive about this proposed approach, test it out. In my experience, the most enriching part of developing the Jim Joseph Foundation’s teen education and engagement strategy has been the opportunities to learn directly from Jewish teens. They have been some of my greatest teachers. Certainly, these teens have helped me develop a better appreciation for how the Jewish community can best support them and their peers. Beyond that, they have provided my Foundation colleagues and me with new insights about how we can be better Jewish leaders, learners, creators, and supporters of meaningful Jewish life.


Read more at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Oct. 28, 2015