Global, Politics, Religion

Liveblogging from URJ's Reach High Conference

Today is day two of URJ’s three-day “round table” on Jewish teen education. I’m here along with about 70 other Jewish educators (and a handful of lay leaders) to consider what we’re doing right and what we can do better in the realm of Jewish living opportunities for teenagers. The vast majority of participants are Reform synagogue educators, so I’ve got something of an outsider’s view as a community educator with a Conservative background and no current movement affiliation. Also, as Jewschool readers might guess, I have some strong opinions about what we’re doing right and wrong… and I suspect who I include in “we” might be different than many of the other participants.
As far as I can tell, two of us are Tweeting from the conference. (Gah, I feel like a tool for even typing that sentence.) But to the extent that discussions here provoke thoughts more complex than 140 characters, I’ll be posting here.
Right now David Bryfman (newly minted as a PhD – mazel tov, David!) is presenting his research on where our teenagers are at right now. I’ll give you this – the man makes a mean Powerpoint. He began by acknowledging that this piece of the presentation is largely information that many people in this room already know (either intuitively or academically), although I wonder how many of the older people in this room have ever seen G-dcast before… or Gossip Girl, for that matter. Regardless, I’m looking forward to the next step of “so what,” i.e. translating this knowledge into action.

Rabbi Jan Katzew, director of URJ’s Department of Lifelong Jewish Learning, laid out the aspirations of the conference last night:

  1. This forum will indeed reach high if we are able to translate dissatisfaction with the status quo into a vision for engaging every Jewish teen in Jewish life.
  2. This forum will indeed reach high if we are able to develop resources that respond to the emerging identities in 21st century Jewish life.
  3. This forum will indeed reach high if we experiment with new methods in using technology with teens in Jewish settings.
  4. This forum will indeed reach high if there are some participants who volunteer to serve as mentors — to peers and to teens — because they believe that “somebody has to be crazy about that kid.”
  5. This forum will indeed reach high if we commit to fostering Jewish experiences that are co-created by teens, by their parents and by us.
  6. This forum will indeed reach high if you return to the institution that enabled your participation with
    • a clear, cogent and compelling array of research findings,
    • relevant suggestions for curricular innovation,
    • an opportunity for participation in a pilot project,
    • the name of at least one new collegial partner, and
    • a renewed strategic commitment to the proposition that we can engage in Jewish life far more teens in far more meaningful ways.

7 thoughts on “Liveblogging from URJ's Reach High Conference

  1. Bryfman’s four challenges:
    1. Why should a Jewish teen choose a Jewish life?
    2. When educating our Jewish teens, what considerations do we give to external cultural influences?
    3. What role does new technology have in understanding who our Jewish teens are today?
    4. Our institutions for serving Jewish teens were built decades ago. We know that teens have changed, why haven’t we?
    My only caveat is that I think we need to replace “technology” with a bigger word. Yes, technology has changed, but the world has changed in profound ways that are sometimes, but not always, connected to technology. (For example, working with Jewish teens has changed since Columbine, since 911, since the Catholic clergy abuse scandals… none of those were technology-driven, but the changes they provoked were equally profound.)

  2. Any talk about the male retention issue? You mentioned that there are no female presenters, but that all (but you?) the participants are female. Do male teens lose interest when women are the only educators around?
    Does this event have a presence on the web? Can those of us who are not there see/read anything about it? I can’t find it in the URJ site’s maze of material, except a calendar event. Oof!

  3. Do male teens lose interest when women are the only educators around?
    Where the fruitcake did you grow up?! Middle school and high school classes taught by moderately attractive female educators were the ones I paid most attention in and did above and beyond coursework for. And the times I wasn’t engaged made for my best adolescent daydreaming ever. Rawr

  4. To my knowledge, there’s no web presence for the conference other than what David and I are doing on Twitter, and what I’m doing here.
    The conference participants aren’t all female, just overwhelmingly so. And while all the plenary sessions are lead by men, there are breakout groups tonight that are lead by women. (It was interesting but not surprising that in my breakout group this morning, despite an even gender breakdown, the men dominated the conversation.)
    There was a different breakout group this morning on gender issues in Jewish education, but I didn’t attend that session so I can’t say anything substantial about their discussion.

  5. And a question I have to throw out there for you – what Jewish Experience do we provide these teens as they grow up and enter their 20’s 30’s and yes 40’s. We focus a lot on retaining teens, but we lose them when the expectations of programming we set for them as teens are met with a once a week Shabbat service that is too often stultifying compared with what they’d had earlier.

  6. This morning, Jan Katzew summed up the conference with “Ten Hopes”:
    1 …Create relationships that are enduring and endearing to teens.
    2. More mission-driven, data-driven vision sharing, collaboration, sharing.
    3. Ability to create a compelling Reform Judaism in a culture of identity choices.
    4. Generate meaningful, engaged learning -> authentically Jewish and stunningly relevant
    5. Technology can be our ally in bringing Torah to life.
    6. Overcome inertia that blocks transformational change.
    7. Incorporate an idea into our professional & personal practice that is sustainable, portable, relevant and authentic.
    8. This community can maintain its integrity beyond the forum.
    9. Embrace technology to achieve a sacred end.
    10. Distill our mission to a single phrase… Perhaps “Kedoshim t’hiyu” or “V’ahavta l’reyecha ka-mocha.”
    (No, I don’t know the difference between #5 and #9.)

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