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Teens Give Back on Mitzvah Day and Beyond

Learn how to get involved through the Jewish Teen Initiative and CJP

By Kara Baskin for JewishBoston

On April 22, more than 200 volunteers—young children, families, teens—converged on the North Shore for North Shore Mitzvah Day, a collaboration between CJP and the Jewish Teen Initiative of Greater Boston (JTI), a network of civic-minded Jewish teenagers.

The group worked at Salem’s Plummer Youth Promise foster home and at Lifebridge transitional housing, cooking meals and performing beautification projects, painting murals, building Adirondack chairs and revamping picnic benches.

The Plummer teenagers were traveling for the weekend, so they’ll come home to a refurbished campus. JTI leaders and high school seniors Halle Johnson from Beverly and Maya Goldman from Marblehead helped to spearhead the event.

“It’s so exciting that they’ll get surprised,” says Johnson.

This was the biggest Mitzvah Day yet, says Goldman.

“The turnout was great—it 100 percent exceeded my expectations,” she says. Some teenagers attended the secular event for community service hours for senior year projects; other families and younger children were merely eager to give back. For Goldman, the connection to Judaism and tikkun olam was important, especially as she leaves home for Binghamton University next year.

The JTI Peer Leadership Fellows program gave her a strong desire to give back to the community, she says. Through JTI and the fellowship, she has helped to unite Jewish teens for community service initiatives and outings, from ski trips to music events. The program taught her how to network, reach out to others, plan events and generate enthusiasm, she says. One popular event is Super Sunday, which happens the weekend before Thanksgiving. Teens gather to prepare food and gifts for shelters.

“The program taught me how to better communicate with others, especially others my age, and how to start networking. This will be useful later on in life. It also honestly showed me how many more Jewish teens there are than what I thought,” she says. “The biggest goal is to engage Jewish teens, to show them that being involved and being Jewish can be fun. It doesn’t have to be strict and only about going to temple. You can meet other teenagers who are just like you.”

Meanwhile, Johnson has worked with JTI since seventh grade, volunteering on Super Sunday and with Habitat for Humanity. She knows that engaging in community service can be overwhelming for people her age: Where to start? How to find time?

“Just find things you’re interested in first, whether it’s painting, cooking or gardening. There’s something for everyone. Start small, and then you can get bigger,” she says.

She’ll attend Bryant University next year, and she feels heartened by Mitzvah Day’s big response. The program is in good hands, she says.

“It was nice to see such a big turnout. I’m a senior; it’s nice to know there will be a big group who will be a part of it once I’m gone,” she says.

Applications for JTI’s Peer Leadership Fellows program close on May 10. This year, there’s a new twist: They added an inclusion program where teenagers will be trained to work with teens with special needs. The group has partnered with Ruderman Family Foundation, Gateways and other organizations to provide high-level inclusion training and leadership development. Fellows will learn how to welcome teens who might have traditionally found it harder to join these activities.

Sound interesting? Learn more here.

Reposted from JewishBoston.com – May 1, 2018

2018 Houston Trip

2018 Houston Trip

We’re excited to announce our next service trip to Houston June 18-23! Join us to volunteer in the Hurricane Harvey relief effort and for an amazing trip with your peers.

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2018 Sheckman Awardees

2018 Sheckman Awardees

Our Annual Tribute to Derek Sheckman

We are thrilled to announce that we have three winners for this year’s Derek Sheckman Award: Haley Lakind, Kevin MacDonald, and Arly MackRosen. In the next year these amazing teen leaders will create three diverse projects that address communal cooking and food scarcity, inclusion, and environmental conservation. We’re so proud to support their work and to honor the memory of Derek Sheckman in doing so. Mazel tov Haley, Kevin, and Arly!

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Teens, adults coming together for Mitzvah Day April 22 in Salem

By Laurie Fullerton
JOURNAL CORRESPONDENT

SALEM – Combined Jewish Philanthropies is joining the Jewish Teen Initiative of Greater Boston to bring a community-wide Mitzvah Day to Salem on April 22 to support those in need.

Adults and teens from throughout the North Shore are urged to join together in helping to landscape, paint, and freshen up two facilities in a day-long event. Lifebridge is a shelter targeting the needs of homeless and disadvantaged adults. Plummer Youth Promise (formerly the Plummer School for Boys) is committed to helping troubled youth.

The Jewish Teen Initiative has offered a Mitzvah Day called J-Serve for Jewish youth from the North Shore for the past six years. But for the first time, CJP is joining in to offer adults that opportunity to practice the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam (repair the world).

“I hope Mitzvah Day will provide others with the ability to make a difference in our community through tikkun olam,” said Maya Goldman of Marblehead, a JTI teen leader. “I am so excited and honored that I will get to help lead these projects on a larger scale, and hope that a large amount of visibility will attract more people to ‘repair the world’ with us.”

The event begins at 56 Margin St., Salem, at 11:30 a.m with a BBQ and presentation of the 2018 Derek Sheckman Award for leadership and commitment to the community. Then work groups will paint, assemble picnic tables and shelves, clean and cook at both at the Plummer Youth Promise and Lifebridge. The two organizations were asked to submit wish lists that included a bag of baked goods for each of the boys at the Plummer home, who will be returning from school break on that day.

“I can think of no better way to spend a wonderful and meaningful afternoon,” said Anne Selby, co-chair of CJP’s North Shore Planning Committee. “Grandparents, parents, children, and friends, working together, using our hands and guided by our hearts, helping those in need, creating dozens of projects to enhance two incredible agencies.”

For CJP, the desire to join up with JTI stems in part from the organization’s hope to support youth and reach more adults and families in the Jewish community who want to volunteer on April 22. Building leadership and bringing generations together is one of CJP’s key goals.

“This is the first time CJP has done something this community-based on the North Shore and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with JTI on this initiative,” said Elizabeth Tauro, business community liaison/North Shore manager of CJP. “Bringing adults into the Mitzvah Day helps foster leadership and adults and youth can learn from each other working side by side.”

The organization urges adults from throughout the Boston community and the North Shore to volunteer on April 22. “We couldn’t be more excited to expand our reach by working alongside CJP to bring this dynamic teen-led volunteer opportunity to all ages throughout the community,” said Adam Smith, executive director of the Jewish Teen Initiative.

For more information and to register, visit JewishTeenInitiative.org and go to the service learning link under programs, then J-Serve.

Reposted from The Jewish Journal – April 12, 2018
J-Serve 2018

J-Serve 2018

Join us for J-Serve + North Shore Mitzvah Day, a massive multi-generational event that will help Lifebridge and Plummer Youth Promise in Salem, MA. Sign up now for the April 22 event!

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Jewish youth groups help teens embrace their heritage

By Michael Wittner
JOURNAL CORRESPONDENT

Last Sukkot, around 40 teenagers from all over the North Shore came to Rabbi Shmaya Friedman’s house in Swampscott to celebrate. Under the sukkah, they made tacos, put on some Israeli music, and lit a bonfire.

A few of the attendees were 12 and 13, and didn’t know many of the people around them. Most people were older – 17 or 18. But by the end of the night, in true Sukkot spirit, everyone was sitting around the fire, talking like old friends.

Lauren Kagan, a junior at Gann Academy in Waltham, remembers that night as one of her fondest memories of Jew Crew, a local teen youth group run by Chabad of the North Shore.

For Kagan, the welcoming spirit of Jew Crew has always been its biggest draw. “It was fun to see the new generation of Jew Crew come bond with older kids and feel welcome,” she said. Seeing that reminded her of her own experience a few years ago, when she started coming to events right after her bat mitzvah. Although Kagan attended the Epstein Hillel School, she didn’t feel a true connection to Judaism until she joined Jew Crew.

“They welcomed me with open arms,” said Kagan. “It didn’t matter how religious I was or how I practiced. We all had being Jewish in common, and we were one big family. Everyone feels so comfortable and welcome.”

The North Shore is full of youth groups like Jew Crew. Even though they’re run by different synagogues and organizations and serve different communities, their overall missions are similar: To foster a sense of community among Jewish youth, and help them become upstanding citizens who give back to their community and are proud to be Jewish.

Some of the youth groups on the North Shore are run by synagogues. The Jew Crew has been a part of Chabad for 20 years. Its mission, according to Rabbi Friedman, is to “make Judaism real and appealing to today’s teens, ensuring a commitment to their Jewish future.”

Jew Crew holds weekly Shabbat dinners, and monthly events that usually center around a Jewish holiday and involve spirited discussion of its themes and meaning. Jew Crew also hosts outings that are both fun and tied to Judaism, like a “Maccabee Paintball Shooting and Latkes” for Hanukkah, and “Escape from Egypt” around Passover. Most notably, Jew Crew hosts numerous service events and trips, like the 1Mitzvah-sponsored trips to help rebuild in Houston and New Orleans.

Other synagogue-run youth groups include SMARTY, an amalgam of “Swampscott” and “Marblehead,” a program run by Temple Emanu-El for kids from ages 8 to 18. An affiliate of the Reform NFTY movement, SMARTY runs monthly events. Some are fun, like a trip to a trampoline park, a roller blading party, or a ski trip. Others are service-oriented, like organizing a hat and glove drive and baking lasagna and brownies for My Brother’s Table in Lynn.

“It’s important for kids to spend time with their Jewish friends outside of temple,” said director Jill Simmons. “It’s important for families that their kids have fun and also take away Jewish values.”

At another Temple Emanuel a few miles northwest in Andover, one can find a similar type of youth organization that places a high value on student leadership. Instead of SMARTY, there is TEMTY (Temple Emanuel Temple Youth), a group of students from 9th to 12th grade who oversee all youth programming at the temple. Eight high schoolers sit on the TEMTY board and hold monthly meetings to plan all events.

There is also a newly formed USY-affiliated group for children who belong to temples Ner Tamid and Tifereth Israel, both of Peabody. The group started just last year and has already hosted 10 events. It’s already enjoying a great deal of success – over 60 people attended its opening event, and in February, it took 47 children tubing in Andover. Founder Dave Goldberg is optimistic about the future, noting a stellar group of parents who are working together to coordinate more fun and educational programming for the young children of their temples.

Another organization that serves Jewish youth on the North Shore is the Lappin Foundation, founded by local philanthropist Robert Lappin. The goal of the Lappin Foundation, according to Executive Director Debbie Coltin, is to “enhance Jewish identity across generations and help keep our children Jewish.”

The foundation runs various programming for teens and tweens, including a Jewish book group, and a program called Tiku Shofar that teaches Hebrew School students about the mitzvah of the shofar and provides them with complimentary shofars from Israel. Their flagship program, however, is called Y2I, or “Youth to Israel.” Every summer, the Lappin Foundation sponsors about 100 teens from communities north of Boston to go on a completely subsidized trip to Israel.

Although the trip itself is only two weeks, the Lappin Foundation provides a year’s worth of pre- and post-trip educational programming for teens. Before the trip, teens attend a number of sessions that teach them about the culture, history, and language of Israel. During the trip, students spend two weeks traveling across the country accompanied by a group of Israeli teens, and spend a weekend staying in an Israeli home. After the trip, teens take part in a course that teaches them to advocate for the homeland they’ve just experienced.

“With regards to my Jewish identity, Y2I was a game-changer,” said Rachel Ellis of Peabody, who went on the trip in 2015. “I grew up attending Hebrew school and having a bat mitzvah, but I truly did not understand what all of that meant until I went to Israel. Israel put into place for me what it means to be Jewish. Y2I provided me with a chance to see the history of the Jewish people and understand why I need to continue to carry out my Jewish faith.”

While some teens join Jewish youth groups, 75 percent stop engaging with the Jewish community after their bar or bat mitzvah, according to research done by a number of different Jewish organizations. Adam Smith, executive director of the Jewish Teen Initiative of Greater Boston, said the typical response to this steep drop-off is to try to create new programming in the hopes of attracting teens. However, this model has not typically proved effective.

Enter the JTI.

“We’re the anti-‘Field of Dreams,’” said Smith, referencing the movie with the famous tagline, “If you build it, they will come.” Instead, the JTI, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, went on a comprehensive listening tour and partnered with a number of organizations to figure out four things: a full list of the programming already available; the programming teens actually want; how to inform teens of programming they might like but don’t know about; and how to create the programs that teens want but don’t already exist.

In so doing, the organization hopes to match teens with existing organizations that fit their interests.

In an innovative move, JTI has started a Peer Leadership Consort for teens to help educate their friends in programs that interest them. The true tragedy, said Smith, is not when someone tries a program and doesn’t like it. Rather, it’s when someone finds out that all this time, there was a perfect program for them they simply didn’t know about. That is what JTI and the Peer Leadership Consort are trying to address.

In addition to its educational outreach programming, JTI sponsors its own events, which are based on empirical research on needs that weren’t being addressed. JTI partners with a number of organizations to run service trips, and for years had teens write an insert in the Jewish Journal. This holistic, teen-centered model is working well, and has been replicated in 10 other cities.

Whether they’re run by a synagogue, a philanthropic foundation, or a mix of the two, youth groups across the North Shore are working hard to make sure teens remain engaged with their Jewish heritage. Whether below a starry Negev sky or in a rabbi’s backyard, there will be many more lively discussions around a bonfire, next to good food and good friends.

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NORTH SHORE MITZVAH DAY IS APRIL 22

By Michael Wittner
JOURNAL CORRESPONDENT

SALEM – Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), Boston’s Jewish Federation, is joining the Jewish Teen Initiative of Greater Boston (JTI) and J-Serve to bring North Shore Mitzvah Day to Salem on April 22, 11:30-4 p.m. Teen and adult leaders will facilitate projects – ranging from landscaping and cooking to building and painting projects – to support the work of Lifebridge and the Plummer Youth Promise.

This event is free and open to the public. People of all ages and abilities are encouraged to pre-register for this event by visiting cjp.org/nsmitzvahday.

“Over the past six years, J-Serve’s International Day of Service has stood out as an incredible volunteer event featuring teen leadership, design thinking, innovation, community service, and significant social impact. We couldn’t be more excited to expand our reach by working alongside CJP to bring this dynamic teen-led volunteer opportunity to all ages throughout the community,” said Adam Smith, executive director of the Jewish Teen Initiative.

Lifebridge is a shelter dedicated to ending homelessness. The organization offers essential services that target the needs of homeless and disadvantaged adults. Programs focus on education, employment, and self-sufficiency. Plummer Youth Promise is an organization committed to helping troubled youth find meaningful connections to family and build their skills and community connections.

“I hope Mitzvah day will provide others with the ability to make a difference in our community through tikkun olam. Bringing teens together with a common identity provides a great opportunity to connect with others, build new relationships, and make a visible impact close to home. I am so excited and honored that I will get to help lead these projects on a larger scale, and hope that a large amount of visibility will attract more people to ‘repair the world’ with us,” said Maya Goldman, a JTI teen leader.

“I was thrilled with the idea of a community-wide Mitzvah day on the North Shore, which is made even better through JTI and the CJP North Shore Planning Committee partnering to truly make this a multi-generational day of service. I can think of no better way to spend a wonderful and meaningful afternoon. Grandparents, parents, children, and friends, working together, using our hands and guided by our hearts, helping those in need, creating dozens of projects to enhance two incredible agencies,” said Anne Selby, co-chair of CJP’s North Shore Planning Committee.

This year’s projects will include:

  • Baking and cooking
  • Painting interior
  • Mural painting
  • Building picnic tables and benches
  • Building Adirondack chairs
  • Making gift baskets and table decorations
  • Gardening and beautifying grounds

There will be a bus with pick up/drop off points in Peabody and Marblehead. You can view a schedule here.

This event is made possible through a donation from the Michael Steinberg Leadership Development Endowment Fund, aimed to develop leadership on the North Shore. Other contributions to this event include a grant from BBYO as well as support from Prime Motor Group and Levine’s Kosher Meats and Deli.

Teen Article

Teen Article

A Teenage Activist Reflects on March For Our Lives

By Tara Snapper
Wellesley High School Senior

Wellesley High School senior Tara Snapper belongs to Wellesley’s Temple Beth Elohim. She’s also the social action vice president for NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth), and the young activist plans to pursue social justice work when she heads to college next year (maybe the University of Michigan or Tulane University).

She attended Boston’s March For Our Lives last weekend, organizing a large contingent of teenagers from temples in Boston’s suburbs, connected by the Jewish Teen Initiative. We talked to her about the experience.

What do you do at NFTY and how does this relate to gun violence?

This is a national youth group for Reform teens. There are 1,200 people in the Northeast region. We have different social justice events throughout the year. We create awareness around different issues. We empower teens to make change.

With March For Our Lives, the recent walkouts and the Parkland shooting in February, people reached out to me: “Hey, I feel passionate, what can we do?” “How can you help me?” “We should do something on gun violence.”

How did you help them?

I posted scripts for phone calls to legislators. NFTY had a large nationwide campaign on it. They were giving people scholarships to go to Washington, D.C. I wanted to do something, and we decided Boston may be best. Then we talked to Temple Israel, the biggest in the Boston area, to reach out to the Jewish community, to anyone who felt they had a place in this movement.

On the day of the March, an event happened at Temple Israel first. We had 110 teenagers from 36 Jewish organizations and 22 towns. People came from Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

How did you solidify your position before going into the march?

Isaiah Goldsmith, social justice vice president of the youth group at Temple Israel, and I planned the hour portion. People could articulate why they came, from something as basic as how they got here to maybe what happened to them in seventh grade that made them so passionate. We asked, “Why did you start becoming passionate about social justice?” or “What are your views on gun control?” We talked about why we’re here as a Jewish community. We also gave everyone a packet of different legislation from each state and a checklist of things to include for a phone script and a template. That’s a huge piece of this. You saw signs at the March: “No more prayers, we need reform.” That comes from constituents. After participating in L’Taken’s social justice seminar in Washington, D.C., where I lobbied on gun prevention, I believe this strongly.

Why does this matter to you?

I live in Wellesley, which is such a safe town. Even after all these school shootings, I don’t feel unsafe. But I saw the Florida shootings, and I know someone who lived 15 minutes from the school. Their friends had experienced it. As they become more frequent, the closer I see they’re getting to me. I have been so lucky. I don’t even know if I know someone who has died, let alone someone who has been shot. I feel so fortunate about it, but I see [this safety] being taken away from other people. It could easily be me next. At our middle school, someone spray painted, “Are we next?” A 12-year-old was feeling scared!

Wellesley is a safer town. I recognize it, and I appreciate it. I don’t know if everyone is aware of how much of a bubble we are. Yes, we have the strictest gun laws in the country, but not everyone in Massachusetts is safe. I have learned in this process how important gun legislation is. State reps really do listen to their constituents. They have more time to listen to people who call. And I just turned 18. I have the power to go vote. I can go to the polls.

What else have you done to raise awareness about gun control?

My social justice involvement has been outside high school. But I helped to organize our walkout, and it was the first time I made an effort to do something in my school, along with someone else who felt passionately. My high school principal let us set up a meeting, and 55 kids were at it, from vocal freshmen to seniors. I was amazed by how much people did care. We had a planning group with 70 people. In Jewish tradition, you cannot stand idly by, which we didn’t do. People understand it’s an issue. After our walkout, people reached out and said, “I appreciate you not saying, ‘Let’s ban guns.’” Our majority is liberal. But we didn’t want it to be only liberal kids.

How was the march?

Being surrounded by my new Jewish friends was amazing. I did the Diller Teen Fellows program, which is pluralistic, and one of the main pillars is tikkun olam. Every single person at the march was rooting for the same thing, and I was alongside this Jewish community I felt so connected to. Meshing with another 100,000 people showed what I have been believing in keeps building and building on itself. We were 100 people joining 100,000.

Any parting thoughts on activism and teens?

Although awareness is important, acting is the next step. Teens are starting to understand that their voices do matter. At the march, at Boston Common, there were very few adults speaking. On stage, it was all teens.