By Reuben Posner, Director of Youth Engagement
If you ever want see a friend or colleague light up (or maybe grimace) ask them to share a memory from when they were teenagers. Often the memories come flooding back—moments of joy and moments of embarrassment. For teens, everything is more intense. As we mature, our senses, bodies and brains develop, and we say goodbye to childhood and hello to adulthood. It’s an exciting (and sometimes scary) time of transitions.
Some of my most treasured memories from when I was a teen are from the summer after my sophomore year of high school, when I traveled to Israel with the Nesiya Institute. It wasn’t the first time I had been to Israel, but it was my first time there with my peers. Waking up before sunrise to hike in the Ramon Crater, building a playground in a small village in the Galil, dancing with friends as we celebrated the arrival of Shabbat—these are the memories I take with me every day, wherever I go.
While those memories continue to make me smile, they alone did not change who I was or who I’ve become—it was the community of people in those memories. It was the counselors who served as mentors and role models, supporting me during that summer and beyond; years later I was still in touch with them and leaning on the advice they gave me when I was just 15 years old. And it was the peers that shared experiences with me, asked me questions and gave me space to safely experiment with different answers.
For a teen, having that type of space and support is truly invaluable. I had people asking me questions I had never been asked before. The group forced me to reexamine my understanding of what learning could mean; of why I practiced my Judaism in the way I did; of how I understood my place in my community. Not only did they push me, but they allowed me to push them—and it was in that back and forth that tremendous growth happened.
By now, I hope you have memories of your own teen years flowing back. At CJP, we know that teens are navigating an increasingly high-pressure, high-stress environment, and that many walk away from Judaism. But we know that teens who maintain a connection to Judaism—often through Jewish experiences targeted to them, just like my summer trip with the Nesiya Institute—feel more connected to each other, to Jewish role models and to the Jewish community. This not only enhances their identity formation and overall well-being, but also leads to a brighter future for all of us.
Right here in Greater Boston, there are so many resources available to our teens. We have dynamic and varied programs facilitated by caring, inspirational professionals. In the past few weeks we have highlighted #BostonJewishTeen content on Facebook and Twitter —we invite you to take some time to get to know them, and see what’s out there for Jewish teens. Connect them to the opportunities that are right for them. In doing so, we can simultaneously contribute to their healthy development, solidify their Jewish identity and strengthen our community here in Boston, as well as our community across the globe.
And most importantly, we can ensure that our teens will have a trove of wonderful memories of their own to last the rest of their lives.