Cbi youth helps launch the phoenix Reform teen Coalition


When it comes to Jewish education, teens have always required a special approach. That fine balance between content and community has always been at the forefront of Reform Jewish identity, and it is particularly important to get right for teenagers. They need opportunities to explore Judaism in ways that make them feel free of judgment and I’m sorry to say, away from the labels of “grown-ups.” There is a reason that Camp Stein’s LTP and Ozrim programs are so beloved; the campers get the chance to take ownership and empower themselves into their own community action. But what happens to our teens when those opportunities aren’t available?

Pandemic laid bare many difficult truths about Jewish programming across the movement, but particularly for teens.Our fellow congregations found themselves in the same position: virtual programming, and virtual community, just wasn’t drawing teens in. And who could blame them? We spent a long school year trying program after program, blending ages, bringing in virtual guests, and attempting long-distance tikkun olam events. Many of our teens participated solely because they knew how hard we were working (they are, after all, amazing and deeply empathetic kids), not because they were feeling particularly connected to their Jewish community.

As the 2021 school year transitioned into an in-person summer, all of the Youth professionals in the Valley had the same question: how can we get it right this time? Through collaboration, many Zoom calls, and a large amount of chutzpah, the solution would become what we now call the Reform Teen Coalition.

Aligning our synagogue with the teen programs of Temple Chai, Emmanuel, and Kol Ami, the RTC aims to grow our individual congregation’s youth groups by leaning on the tight-knit Jewish teen community in our own backyard. For years, we held separate functions at our respective synagogues and outsourced community-wide functions to NFTY or BBYO. With those programs no longer able to support us at their previous levels, we swung for the fences and decided to form our very own local movement.

We are thrilled to say that the Reform Teen Coalition is a massively successful undertaking thus far. Our kickoff event brought over 80 Jewish teens together from across the Valley for food, Havdalah, and the beginnings of a true kehilah kedoshah. A year ago, we all were struggling to bring these teens into our virtual spaces. But together, for both advisors and teens, we truly feel that we are beginning to move from strength to strength.

Our next RTC event will be a Charity Disc Golf Tournament held after High Holy Days, giving congregations space to launch their own individual programming while helping to rebuild the teen experience for the larger Jewish community. CBI Youth will still have a full schedule of programming for all ages throughout the school year, but now has the chance to take teen engagement to the next level.

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