For lots of kids, Jewish life fizzles out a bit during the busy teenage years. It needn’t be this way: The North Shore Teen Initiative (NSTI) and Swampscott’s Congregation Shirat Hayam have partnered with Hillel International, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, to engage Jewish teenagers through a new Sloane Peer Leadership Fellows program.
NSTI’s goal is to identify and train a select group of teen leaders to engage and encourage their peers to participate in diverse programming and Jewish life. Fourteen 10th- and 11th-graders from across the North Shore were recently accepted as fellows.
The leaders connect with their fellow Jewish teenagers, inviting them to opportunities throughout the North Shore that best match their interests. The leadership fellows are paid interns; they receive leadership training and go on retreats focusing on important concepts like resilience and community organizing. The program is funded by Toby Sloane, in memory of her husband, Carl, a professor at Harvard Business School who died last year.
“Hillel is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary of peer-to-peer engagement and an amazing 100,000 college students reached. We’re proud and excited to be its first national teen partner, to bring such an extraordinary model to the high school age range,” says Adam Smith, executive director of NSTI. “This fellowship has the possibility of being an absolute game-changer as we work to reach Jewish teens who aren’t connected to any formal programming. The Sloane fellows will be trained by Hillel International, and tasked with reaching out to 25 of their peers on a consistent basis to build relationships and let their friends know about the incredible menu of opportunities that are out there for Jewish teens, highlighting the options that line up with their interests. It’s like a living, interactive program guide.”
Teenagers responded to essay questions online geared toward assessing how comfortable they are connecting with others. Finalists had a video interview.
The selected group is diverse: “We wanted to have kids representing lots of towns, private schools and public school, athletes, artists, camp kids, et cetera,” Smith says.
Rabbi Michael Ragozin from Congregation Shirat Hayam is hopeful that this will bring renewed engagement to the younger community.
“The big idea being that, up until this point, the North Shore Teen Initiative had done well in Jewish life in boosting participation but hadn’t crossed the 40 percent threshold. A majority of Jewish teens have no connection to community as teenagers,” he says.
The outreach is having a positive effect on the fellows, too.
“I think that it’s important for Jewish teens to feel connected to each other and the Jewish community in general because they should be proud to be Jewish and not feel any shame. Also, meeting people who share the same beliefs and experiences with you almost always has a great outcome,” says Beverly’s Emily Zieff, one of the fellows.
Now, several other communities across the country are interested in bringing the peer leadership program to local teens, including San Diego, San Francisco and Baltimore, say reps for the program.
Learn more about the program and how to apply here.