By Inbar Singal, Manager, Community Engagement
“If our ultimate responsibility as Jews is to make the world a better place, we look to our children to make sure there always will be a strong Jewish community to care for those in need.”
Joyful Jewish experiences ignite a child’s Jewish soul, his values of caring, her love for community, each child’s own way of being Jewish. These experiences enable them to learn about their heritage, embrace their identity, make lasting bonds with Jewish peers, and develop a world view built on values of caring.
Joyful, meaningful, and empowering Jewish experiences come in many forms for every stage of a young person’s life and the Jewish Federation is committed to supporting them.
Good Seeds, Good Fruit
The fruits of these programs are plenty and encourage core Jewish values of tzedakah (justice), chesed (caring) and tikkun olam (repairing the world). Programming supported by the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey teaches young people, in age-appropriate ways, that there are people among us who are vulnerable, but also resilient -- and each of us, at every age, can help them.
Through these programs, we are making mensches.
Mensches like Sarah… the choices she makes and the actions she takes today as a college student demonstrate how programs supported by the Federation, from the time she was a preschooler, have cultivated the best in the human spirit. Read Sarah’s story and learn how the experiences she gained through Jewish day school, Friendship Circle and JTeam helped her move past hardship and loss to make a lasting, positive impact on others’ lives.
Root and Branch
The Jewish Federation and its partners support many ways for children from infancy through college to find their path to and place in Jewish life. This benefits them far beyond Jewish life as well. These opportunities empower young people to learn more, feel more, BE more. They shape not only their values but also help them develop leadership skills, people skills, and thinking skills. As young people grow in their social circles, their schooling, and their personal development, the skills they have acquired through Jewish programming give them the confidence to climb higher, branch out, and remain balanced, even when out on a limb.
As we climb up through the branches, we move from playful, imagination-based activities like PJ Library, Jewish preschool, and Jewish summer camp -- all great ways to positively engage the energy and ebullience of childhood -- into more cerebral and empathetic opportunities. Studio J Theater is for ages 7-17 and provides creative and educational space where students explore their Jewish values while honing their communication and interpersonal skills through acting. Anchored right here in the heart of New Jersey, this and the Axelrod Performing Arts Center’s, Rising Stars program are supported through a partnership with the Jewish Federation.
The teen philanthropy program, JTeam, trains young adults to analyze community needs and solutions, then respond as compassionate and metrics-minded philanthropists. JSERVE, the international day of Jewish teen service, engages 6th – 12th graders in hands-on social activism.
Programs like Step Up 4 Israel, Write On for Israel, and Fresh Ink for Teens help teens develop communication skills to advocate for themselves and for Israel with confidence and authority, correcting false narratives about the Jewish homeland the Jewish people.
And since being there is the best way for young people to understand what Israel means to them, the Federation offers teen travel grants to help defray the costs of organized trips for young people in high school, and supports Birthright Israel. Birthright offers free, 10-day peer trips for 18-26 year olds. Peer trips to Israel at this formative age meet teens where they are in their emotional and intellectual development, engage their hearts and minds, and empower them to form their own perceptions of Israel.
Swinging from Branch to Branch
Regardless of our stage of life or our religious background or practices, all Jews are family. Many of the youth programs the Federation supports are designed to bring together children with teens and teens with adults, people with special needs with typical kids, and children from observant homes with more secular Jews. Programs like Hand in Hand, Friendship Circle, and Yachad are a few service opportunities supported by the Federation that pair typical teenagers with younger, children who have special needs. Jesse’s story is proof that these warm, genuine relationships transform the lives of all involved. Everyone benefits, while learning how to build a more inclusive world where we truly feel and fulfill our responsibility to each other.
And because we are determined to honor our past while we invent our future, we applaud and support our partners who design programs like the one launched by East Brunswick’s Temple B’nai Shalom in New Brunswick. This program brought together teens and seniors in a project to document oral histories of the older adults and their experiences with Jewish life in our local community. Where once there was uncomfortable distance, now youth and seniors have developed compassionate and caring relationships, building bridges from Jewish past to Jewish future.
The View From the Top
We can likely all agree that our survival as a Jewish people has always depended on how highly we valued the lives and welfare of our youth. Perhaps no examples speak to this more poignantly than the thousands of heartrending stories of families who sent their children off to safer refuge during the Holocaust.
These parents chose the chance for life for their children -- at all costs -- enduring the anguish of separation, the unknown, and the unimaginable. So, it is no surprise that the charge we feel to provide life affirming experiences for our children is so urgent and compelling.
We know when we give our children access to joyful, responsible, intellectually empowering, and spiritually compelling experiences, they blossom in their own lives and in Jewish life. The youth who participate in these programs not only live life to the fullest today, they will one day become our leaders -- strong, resolute, and committed to repairing the world.
Share a world of enrichment with the young people in your life. To find the right, age-appropriate opportunities, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 732-588-1838.