Teens Take Over High Holy Day Children’s Services

From Section:
Informal Education
Oct. 09, 2016

Source: Rabbi Paul Kipnes' Blog


Wouldn’t your heart soar too, if children left the High Holy Day children’s services kvelling? And their parents had to pry them away from hugging the teen leaders, who had showered them with love and learning? And the older teens, who had mentored younger teens, felt energized as they passed on the responsibility of Jewish educational leadership to their younger peers?

That’s just what happens when our Madrichim Leadership Institute’s Leadership Groups assume responsibility for the High Holy Day youth services. Building upon lessons gleaned from the Union for Reform Judaism’s Campaign for Youth Engagement, the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education at HUC-JIR, and the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s mentoring programs, we embark on an intentional design process to nurture multifaceted, teen-led Holy Day youth services.
The results are amazing. They reaffirm that when we mentor youth toward genuine responsibility, they inevitably surpass expectations. Rabbi Julia Weisz enlists the entire Congregation Or Ami staff to create a transformational, multigenerational youth engagement and holy day enhancement program.

Walk into the youth services and you will see children involved in arts and crafts projects that are fun and deeply meaningful. Watching them on their feet, singing and worshipping, will warm you. The younger children are at rapt attention because the older teens are their role models, their older “friends.” The teens themselves feel like they are transmitting the essence of Judaism to the next generation. Which they are.

Five take away lessons emerge from these experiences:

  • Clear Expectations: Give teens real responsibility and clear expectations, and they will surpass the expectations.
  • Multilevel Mentoring: Mentoring of younger teen leaders by older teen leaders enhances success as the oldest teens feel the responsibility to prepare their younger charges to
    eventually take over for them.
  • Positive Jewish Role Models: Young Jewish children crave role models and teens thrive when they are guided to be those role models.
  • Pursuing Deeper Content: When clergy become facilitators of learning by mentoring the teens to lead, we deepen content and ensure greater engagement.
  • Kvelling to Adults: We can train the community (in adult services, in e-newsletters, on social media, and at board meetings) to value the work of the teens, lifting them up to be emulated.

Congregation Or Ami’s High Holy Days are overrun with teens who feel engaged and responsible. We are achieving what many forward-thinking Jewish institutions are pursuing. Like them, we are learning that a commitment to youth engagement demands a concurrent commitment to providing authentic responsibility, consequential leadership training, and time intensive mentoring. Having attached significant human and financial resources to this process, our High Holy Days shine ever more brightly.

Read the entire post at Rabbi Paul Kipnes' Blog.

Updated: Feb. 07, 2017
Children's synagogue services | Experiential education | High holidays | Teen engagement