Taking Our Youth Beyond the Synagogue Walls

Posted on April 7, 2020

Over the past two months, our teens have participated in a number of terrific travel experiences. Our TBE over night experiences are designed around Shabbat, to offer our teens the opportunity to further develop their Jewish identities through meaningful, hands-on learning and authentic Jewish experiences beyond the walls of the synagogue. Another central cornerstone of these experiences is broadening our teens’ Jewish social experience by forging meaningful relationships with one another.

  In January, we took our eighth- and ninth-graders to New York City. Our itinerary included visits to the historic Central Synagogue to celebrate Shabbat, Torah study as a group, an exploration of the 9 /11Museum and Memorial, Times Square, and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. Highlights included riding the subway, learning more about the events of 9/11, and sleeping in a hotel with our friends!

In early February, juniors and seniors in our post-Confirmation program made their way to Atlanta, Georgia. Here we spent time learning about Jewish history, the civil rights movement, and the ways in which these intersect. Our itinerary included visits to The Temple (a historic Reform congregation in Atlanta with significant ties to social justice and the civil rights movement); The Center for Civil and Human Rights; and Sunday morning services at The Ebenezer Baptist Church. Another highlight was time spent involved in a community service project with Open Hand Atlanta, an organization that seeks to eliminate disability and untimely death due to nutrition-sensitive chronic disease.

At the end of February, our 10th-grade Confirmation class traveled to Washington, D.C. for the L’Taken Seminar for Social Justice with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. L’Taken is an educational leadership program that exposes students to a variety of issues, such as economic justice, reproductive rights, gun violence prevention, immigration, disability rights, and more. In addition to learning sessions, Shabbat celebration, visiting the United States Holocaust Museum, and free time to explore and socialize, the program culminated with a day on Capitol Hill, meeting with staff in the offices of both our New Jersey senators and our House representative to lobby on issues of importance.

The first weekend in March brought our sixth- and seventh-grade overnight retreat to URJ Camp Harlam. In partnership with Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan, our young teens had a chance to learn, build relationships, and celebrate Shabbat outside the synagogue. This age-appropriate, one-night, first taste of an overnight experience helps our children develop their Jewish identities, while growing in confidence and independence.

A common thread of all these immersive experiences is the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat from beginning to end with their peers outside the walls of our synagogues. Our teens come to understand that their Judaism and their Jewish identity is always with them and that there are many equally significant ways to experience our Judaism. To find out more about future trips and how they can enrich your child’s Jewish sense of self, please reach out to Lisa Friedman.

Originally published in the April 2020 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.