Tag: retreat

Campaign for Youth Engagement Continues: Bringing Teens to the 4th-6th Grade Retreat

The teenage girl puts her arm around the fourth grader. They both smile. The younger child feels warmth, love and a sense of “I matter” from her protector, a cool positive Jewish role model. The teen feels a sense of purpose, of meaning and a sense of “I matter” from a child who looks up to her as a positive Jewish role model.

For which child’s benefit did Congregation Or Ami organize this 3 day retreat at Malibu’s Camp Hess Kramer? Ostensibly, for the younger child as this weekend was designated a 4th-6th grade retreat. Yet anyone who has witnessed the powerful effects of empowering teens to be counselors (actually CITs, counselors in training) recognizes quickly that upon assuming some responsibility for the safety and emotional health of younger charges the teens are themselves transformed. One might argue that the teens benefit the most from these retreats.

Why did Or Ami bring more than 20 teens to a younger kids’ retreat? To transform them into leaders, to engage them as positive Jewish Role Models. It worked so well!

A Call for Youth Engagement
When our national organization, the Union for Reform Judaism issued a clarion call for communities to reengage our youth, Or Ami listened and responded. “Find new pathways for them to build relationships with each other and with the clergy,” we were told; it will transform everyone, we were promised. This would change the meaning of synagogue to them, helping stem the erosion of post-B’nai Mitzvah families from the synagogue.

Triple T: Tracks for Temple Teens
So Or Ami’s clergy-lay team listened to the interests of the teens themselves and their parents, and we committed to the new notion that any path that leads a child from Bar/Bat Mitzvah student into Jewish connection is as equally valuable as a class taught by the rabbis. So at Or Ami some teens become Future Coaches, learning about the art of sports coaching and the Jewish values that inform that process, and then they plan and run sports clinics for at risk youth. And other teens become VolunTEENS, learning about Jewish social justice and organizing skills, and then creating social justice projects for themselves and others to fix the world. Some teens visit Jewish cultural places with Jewish Culture Chug while others engage each other socially and Jewishly in LoMPTY, a teenager-led NFTY temple youth group. Every path (or Triple T or Track for Temple Teens, as we call them) is valued as a roadmap toward Jewish commitment, connection and knowledge; each path transforms the participant in subtle and significant ways. Each delivers and reaffirms Jewish values along the way.

Madrichim: Synagogue-based Counselors
And then there are our Madrichim, teens who work with our younger students in our Kesher, Mishpacha and our Hebrew tutoring programs. They spend time with each rabbi, with a master teacher and with leadership mavens. Then they lead prayer services, run holiday programs and help children master reading Hebrew letters. They organize games during breaks, and perform in Torah-based skits during family programs. And all the while, they serve as positive Jewish role models, showing their younger charges that being Jewish, knowing Judaism and being connected to synagogue is cool and meaningful.

Teen Madrichim at the Retreat

So why take more than 20 teens to a 4th-6th grade retreat? Because the teens discover within themselves qualities of selflessness, patience, compassion and teamwork. Because each moment they spend focused on the care and feeding of younger children is a moment that creates responsible leadership for the next generation.
And because as the teens lead the educational programs – on this weekend, about the qualities of a Jewish hero (see Color Games, Hero Worship and Counter-Cultural Learning)- they begin embody the values and become the heroes themselves.

We are so blessed to have dedicated young people who want to be leaders and counselors. They made the retreat so meaningful for so many.  Thank you all!

What Teens Say: Reflections on the Triple T teen Retreat

53 teenagers – 7th through 11th grades – gathering together for our Triple T (“Tracks for Temple Teens”) teen Retreat. Over dinner, I asked them a few questions, and gave them my laptop to record their answers.

First Question: What have been the best parts of the retreat so far?

  • Arielle Tylim and Alyssa Kaplan 10th Grade and Ben Buckley 7th Grade: The best part of the Triple T retreat was spending time with our cabins and making new friends. 
  • Rachel Harris 8th Grade: I have loved getting to know everyone better. Before the retreat I knew everyone’s faces but I never really talked to them. I have enjoyed meeting new friends. 
  • Carly Klinenberg 10th Grade: The best part of the retreat was being with all my old friends and making new ones. 
  • Abigail Barnes 8th Grade: I have enjoyed meeting new people and services. 
  • Zoey Pittler 8th Grade: I loved reconnecting with friends that I haven’t seen in a while. I also loved all of the people in my cabin. 
  • Ben Davidorf 7th Grade: One of my favorite parts of the retreat was singing in the services. I loved all the new Jewish songs that I learned like “hay-yah-ho.” 
  • Jacob Buckley 10th Grade and Steven Suffin 7th Grade: We loved every part of camp! We would happily come back!  
  • Aaron Moxness 10th Grade: I thought the retreat was amazing, and can’t wait for next year!! I especially liked playing guitar in the song sessions. 
  • Steven Simen 10th Grade: Um…. this retreat has been awesome, well organized and well planned. The best thing was the water balloon launch. 

  • Caryl Kaplan, retreat nurse/mom:
    The best part of the retreat has been the people I have met both campers and staff!!

Second Question: How was the retreat different from what you expected?

By and large, the number one answer was that they expected to be overwhelmed with praying and rituals. In fact, all but one student responded saying that the retreat was balanced, friend-filled and exciting.

  • Steven Simen 10th Grade: I can’t say anything bad about this, because it has been very good. 
  • Abigail Barnes 8th Grade: I expected the retreat to be really boring but it has been very fun. I have had so much fun hanging out with my friends. 
  • Zoey Pittler 8th Grade: The retreat was almost like I was at Camp Newman, but for just a weekend.

    Aaron Moxness 10th Grade: It was everything I expected. 

  • Rachel Harris 8th Grade: … there have been so many fun-filled activities. 
  • Arielle Tylim and Alyssa Kaplan 10th grade and Ben Buckley 7th Grade: … we had a lot of fun and enjoyed making friends with the younger kids. 
  • Caryl Kaplan, retreat nurse/mom: Watching their interactions as a “fly on the wall” was a heart warming experience. The world could use many more Or Ami young people. 
  • Rabbi Paul Kipnes, 15th Grade: I forgot how kids of all different ages bond together in a camp setting, so that differences disappear and then become one community.

Thanks to Rabbi Julia Weisz, Mishpacha Coordinator Rachel Kaplan Marks, LoMPTY youth advisor Stefanie Philips, and the amazing staff.

To catch a glimpse of how much fun a teen retreat can be, check out our pictures on Facebook. Look at Congregation Or Ami and at Paul Kipnes.