“What an amazing group of teen leaders!”
So many of the presenters from the NY/NJ Jewish Teen Leadership Summit on Sunday shared this observation. Watching more than 350 teens and 50 youth professionals from throughout New York and New Jersey participate in thought-provoking, intellectually challenging sessions was amazing.
We began the day with a keynote from Valerie Weisler, Founder and CEO of The Validation Project. Valerie, at 17 years of age, has created an international movement working with 6,000 teenagers in 100 countries to turn young people’s passions into positive actions through community service, mentoring, and media. She has received international recognition for her work, and recently became the Youth Ambassador for the United States to the United Nations. Through her own personal struggle being bullied and coping with life’s challenges her message was that any of us can make a significant positive change in the world, and that through our passions, we can help to make the world a better place.
From there, the teens had the opportunity to choose from one of nine different lunch and learn sessions, led by our teen leaders. These sessions gave the teens the chance to discuss an issue of shared importance while meeting new people over lunch. The sessions included Social Entrepreneurship, Tikkun Olam, Social Media for Millenials, Engagement through Learning, Bringing Israel Home, Audacious Hospitality, Outreach 101, Deep Jewish Learning as well as a Q&A with Aly Silverberg, the NFTY North American Communications VP who was in attendance throughout the day.
Next, the teens had the opportunity to choose from one of sixteen different workshops led by various community leaders, URJ staff and NFTY alumni. The options included everything from general leadership skills to creating engaging t’filot and song sessions. Teens got to attend two of these 60 minute workshops. Be sure to check out the Summit Program Book, which includes the list of workshops offers as well as the presenters who joined us for the day.
We concluded the day with a closing keynote from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the President of the Union for Reform Judaism. Rabbi Jacob’s keynote was a call to action for our teens to make positive change in the world. Through an interactive presentation with the teens, Rabbi Jacobs challenged our teens to think about the issues that matter to us, and to take concrete steps that make a difference, whether it is LGBTQ rights, Israel, or the Sudanese refugees.
We also had a youth professional track happening concurrent to the teen programming. The sessions included Ownership, delegation, Empowerment, Change Lab: Working Together to Innovate our Programs and many others. A vital component contributing to the success of the day was the strong representation from our URJ camps including Kutz, Eisner, Crane Lake, Harlam, and 6 Points Sci Tech.
The Leadership Summit was an incredible way to kick off the NFTY year! The next NFTY New York Area Regional Event will be our Fall Kallah, a retreat weekend November 13-15 at the URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY. Registration will open for that event soon. I look forward to seeing you there!
Senior Regional Director of Youth Engagement, New York Area
Union for Reform Judaism