Teen Opportunitiesby Introduction by Darren Schwartz, Interviews Brie Stimson and Jacqueline Bull November 2, 2017
Being a Jewish teen in San Diego means having unprecedented opportunities to connect to Jewish life. The challenge is knowing how to find the ones that connects to each teens’ unique interest. Whether you like surfing, entrepreneurship, science, or just hanging out with friends, our community offers unique opportunities for teens to explore their Judaism – you just need to know where to look.
In 2015, the Jewish Federation and Jim Joseph Foundation came together to invest in “increasing the number of Jewish teens doing Jewish things.” In partnership with the Lawrence Family JCC, the San Diego Jewish Teen Initiative was established to serve as a communal hub for understanding the landscape of Jewish teen engagement, supporting existing teen organizations and helping to identify under-engaged Jewish teens.
The San Diego Jewish Teen Initiative just launched a brand new website to help high school teens find the right experience for them. This website has local, national and international programs that will allow them to explore their Judaism in his or her area of interest. SDJewishTeens.org also features college scholarships, internships, college bound resources and a calendar of upcoming events from over 25 different local organizations.
The San Diego Jewish community has a lot to offer our teens. In this article you will meet seven teens who connect to the Jewish community in very different ways.
Addie found her connection through sports, competing as an athlete with JCC Maccabi.
Baila is able to demonstrate her talents in leadership and philanthropy by becoming a program officer for the Jewish Teen Foundation, granting over $40,000 to people in need.
Julia has found her spot in the Jewish community through service -volunteering, interning and advocating for change through Motiv.
Noah was looking for a new way to hang out with his Jewish friends so he reached out to BBYO and started a chapter of this international organization in Carmel Valley.
Maya from Tifereth Israel and Rachel from Temple Emanu El became great friends as they advance their knowledge of Jewish wisdom and tradition at East County’s Community Jewish High, a partnership between both synagogues.
Nathan is able to connect to his religious identity through CTeen through Shabbat experiences, everything from local dinners to traveling to New York and joining teens from around the world to celebrate on Times Square.
These are just a few examples of how Jewish teens can get involved. The opportunities are out there. How will your teen get connected?
Addie Stewart, Senior,Torrey Pines High School
Maccabi Games, JCC Teen Leadership Council
“The way I really got really involved (Now it seems every aspect of my life is through the JCC I feel like) was through the Maccabi Games. It is a miniature Olympic-style sporting event with people and teams from all around the world … The teams compete in every different sport.
I was a little apprehensive. I had never done sleep away camp, never been away from home or anything like that and it was all the way across the country, but some of my really good friends who are also Jewish really encouraged me to do it. Honestly it was one of the best experiences of my life…You compete all day against all the teams from different places and then at night there is always an event. The coolest thing for me was there [were] people from Israel, London and Mexico and some of the people, using social media, I still keep in touch with today. That is the coolest part. I think that is so cool. I would have never been associated with these people in anyway. Now I have a connection with someone like in London that I would never would have. There are very different cultures … I came back with so many stories to tell friends and family. [I’ve] never met so many Jewish teens in one place. And we all had the same thing in common, but we were so different at the same time.
And while you are at Maccabi, they teach you a lot about tikkun olam, doing good deeds. We do activities there focused around being good people, doing the right thing. The sport is really about being good teammates and being good to the other team: it is not really about winning. My team we didn’t win, but it didn’t even matter.
That year the teen director [for the Maccabi games] was also the teen director for the Teen Leadership Council, too and she was like ‘You should totally join it. A lot of people from here do it’. It’s a really good way to get involved and I decided to join it and it was really, really cool. This year I’m one of the vice presidents. Basically a group of teens meet once a week and plan events – so many different events – through the Jewish community. Trying to get people involved. At my school, there are not that many Jewish people, and so when I come to TLC, everyone is Jewish, it’s cool. You have the same holidays – everything is the same. Some of my best friends are through there.”
Baila Ertel, Senior, Torah High School of San Diego
Jewish Teen Foundation
“We were at 8th grade graduation and Darren Schwartz, who started the original Jewish Teen Foundation, came and he gave a little presentation about a new program he was running and how it was a very innovative, very exciting, great opportunity. My eyes immediately popped open and I was like ‘I want to do this!’ I ran up to Darren and was like ‘How do I sign up? How do I do this?’
I grew up surrounded by non-profit organizations, my father started a non-profit organization. He works as an out-reach Rabbi at UCSD. As soon as I heard that I had a chance to be involved with a nonprofit organization, I was like ‘that is exactly what I want to do’.
We go to these different organizations. We are able to talk to people that they have influenced. Being able to look at people and say ‘this is what my money is going to do for other people’.
Last year we focused on mental health and teenagers. We focused on going around the community and finding organizations that help teenagers with mental illness or involved with substance abuse. Actually we found one in Israel. It was called Outside In. It’s a program that takes a group of about 20 high schoolers that are struggling with depression and mental illness that got involved with crime and were going to be sent to prison. It was going to be their last chance before being sent to prison. And these doctors and psychologists took them into the desert for six weeks as a camping trip and it was a way for them to be diagnosed and treated without sitting in a white box and being asked all these questions. It was a way for them to open up in an environment where they felt safe.
Motiv did a census and found there are 7,000 Jewish teenagers in San Diego and only 700 are involved in these programs. I’m trying to channel my inner Darren here and really reach out to everybody. There is so much potential that we just don’t see yet.”
Julia Bernicker, Senior, Francis Parker High School, Motiv
“I really found over the last couple of years that serving my community through Motiv and helping other Jewish teens and other individuals in San Diego has really provided me with the connection that I was missing and that’s really how I connect to my religion, I take Tikkun Olam very literally and I tend to do all I can to do my part in the community so I think that’s kind of where my connection is to my religion.
I started working at Motiv when I was an intern in their very first internship program and in that program we evaluated lots of different community service opportunities out in San Diego … That internship led into their fellowship that also started last spring where each fellow was placed with a different nonprofit organization … There are a lot of different community service opportunities … based on our different issue areas that we are passionate about … This fall, I’m also part of their … peer leaders fellowship where I get to act as kind of a concierge for 25 different uninvolved Jewish teens that I know , but I’m responsible for calling, texting, talking to my 25 teens on my list every week and getting them involved in Jewish programs in San Diego that I think they would be interested in.
There’s really something for everyone in the San Diego Jewish community and if there isn’t something for everyone that’s where Motiv comes in and Motiv is really looking to connect Jewish teens and find Jewish teens and find out what’s missing so I think definitely get involved however you can. Sign up for Motiv, ask your friends what they want to do and get involved.”
Maya Klareich and Rachel Rosenzweig, seniors,
Patrick Henry High School
Community Jewish High
Maya: Community Jewish High is a once a week program for eighth through 12th graders and we meet, we have an hour of dinner, an hour of class with our grade and then an hour of an elective and each grade has a different topic that they focus on. As 12th graders ours is like an individual development personal leadership kind of class … and the electives vary. Right now I’m taking a mind and body class, which is kind of like yoga and meditation class.
Rachel: We got introduced to this idea of Community Jewish High, and it was kind of an extension of Torah school. And it’s just another way to be involved.
Sophomore year … we had just gotten a new rabbi at my synagogue and that was the year that I really felt Jewish and I realized how important it is, how special it is to be Jewish … It was a class like nothing you take in high school. The class focused on yourself and bettering yourself and experiencing the world and Judaism came along with it … I think the most memorable part was being surrounded by people who are so like-minded. Everyone just really cares about being there.
“I think this has really taught me the value of being surrounded by Jewish students … Community Jewish High, I tell everyone it’s like my Shabbat because it’s my day of rest and like a day to focus on being Jewish.
Maya: I think that Judaism is a very personal idea, like you can kind of create your own Judaism and I think you’re not really taught that when you’re younger … Just the past five years of going has really made me aware of who I am as a Jew. And I think that taking all these different classes that vary from … personal identity classes to classes on the Holocaust to classes on Jewish tradition on Jewish theology all things like that, I think it’s just helped me become more open to what Judaism can be and to really define my own Judaism.
Rachel: The thing that I connect with most in Judaism is the sense of community and the sense of how important it is to be educated … every part of Community Jewish High is teaching us how special it is to be Jewish … You have thousands of … people that were just like you that have gone through completely different parts of history that are somehow connected to you and you get to experience that through community Jewish High … Here you figure out being Jewish is being different for a really good reason.
Note: Rosenzweig also interned for the Anti-Defamation League, managing their social media platforms for the past eight months.
Nathan Nasseri, Sophomore, Poway High School
CTeen, Teen Community Chabad
“With [Rabbi] Zevi, I have a foot in everything with Zevi…It kind of just turns into something. I’m doing this Holocaust project for my school getting Holocaust speakers to speak at my school. Basically whatever he asks me to do, I do. Out of his programs I do CTeen the most.
CTeen is a giant program across the nation and ours is the San Diego chapter. And … you use social events to bring Jewish teens together. I’m just kind of an open guy so whenever he asks me to do something I just shrug my shoulders and say ‘Yeah’.
I think that instead of it shoved down your throat I feel like it is exposing you to Judaism without having it seem like it is too much. Everything is in moderation. We took a road trip with Zevi. It was blatantly Jewish; you knew it was Jewish the second you stepped on the van, but he did a really good job of making it seem like a trip that just happened to be Jewish.
I think you need to put a lot more into the social aspect of it or meeting more Jewish teens and slightly introduce it, expose them to the Judaism and slowly but surely bring it back in. That is probably the best way to do it. In Hebrew school it was everyday all day. This is more like once a month, once a week where you can kind of ease into it kind of thing.
Every month [Rabbi Zevi] has a Chabad dinner at his house … It started off with 10 kids and now there are 30-40 kids each month. It is a lot of fun. Everyone – even if they don’t observe, they respect it … Even if it is a Chabad dinner, he still does a really good job of sneaking in the Judaism a little bit, a little bit while still keeping it a social event. And that is why I really like it. They’ve grown to a point where I really look forward to it. Instead of spending Friday night with my family, I spend Friday night with my friends. Friday night dinner is Friday night dinner wherever you are, but I’d rather spend it with friends.”
Noah Hytken, Senior, Torrey Pines High School
“BBYO is a Jewish organization where we essentially have Jewish programs and activities and stuff for Jewish teens in San Diego and all over the world. What I do … is manage the chapter we have here in San Diego. I … organize community service events and social events.So we didn’t really have a prominent Jewish group out in San Diego for some reason and my cousin … is out in Dallas, Texas and he was really into BBYO out there, so I called him last year and he put me in touch with some of the higher people in BBYO where I got the resources to start a chapter out here.
My favorite thing honestly is bringing Jews together in a place where they can feel proud to be Jewish … and using that as culture more instead of religion. We focus a lot on the culture aspect of being Jewish and a lot of people lost that over the years because they think being Jewish is you go to temple, you pray, Hanukkah, but there’s a lot more culture … I like to teach the new members …We use as much Hebrew as possible, all of our traditions are based around Judaism …but not so much the religion as the culture … Being in BBYO has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life, building a chapter here, making an impact on the community, going to the international convention and seeing Jews from all over the world has really made an impact on my life and woke my eyes up to the opportunity that comes from being inside the Jewish community and the connections that you have and how beautiful it is to be Jewish.”