JTEN provides Central Florida teens with global perspective


For the 2014-2015 school year, the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando introduced a new model of Jewish teen education in Central Florida: the Jewish Teen Education Network (JTEN).

With the launch of this innovative program, the Federation successfully expanded the landscape of Jewish teen education, providing students with opportunities to learn about history, current events, culture and values from a Jewish perspective.

JTEN began its inaugural year with three goals: give grants to area synagogues and agencies for specialized teen education programs; implement a community-wide Teen Education Day; and collaborate with Jewish educators to share and create programming. Each of these goals was achieved, and the Federation will again offer JTEN grants for the 2015-2016 school year.

Throughout the year, JTEN educators met to discuss outcomes, share ideas, and brainstorm about new possibilities. The consensus among these educators is that the JTEN framework was well-designed and that they look forward to working within the same framework in the year ahead.

As part of the JTEN program, Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation held regular Wednesday evening classes for teens in grades 8 to 12. The class, “Bringing Israel Home to Orlando,” focused on connecting teens to Israel culturally, spiritually and through Hebrew language. Rabbi Hillel Skolnik, who taught the class, used a variety of tools to help students experience Israeli culture, including watching videos of a popular Israeli TV show. Students who took part in “Bringing Israel Home” commented that they enjoyed learning, under the guidance of their rabbi, about the diverse cultures of the Israeli people.

Congregation of Reform Judaism held a class using a nationally renowned curriculum called “Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior,” taught by Sheryl Sacharoff and Justin Sacharoff. Students who attended the class said it helped them to better understand discrimination and their inherent responsibilities as citizens of the world.

Congregation Ohev Shalom held a weekly “Dinner, Daber & Dvar” class. The first hour focused on modern conversational Hebrew, with the second hour devoted to the “Amazing History of the Jews” from creation to present day. Classes were taught by various teachers from the school, as well as members of the community. One student commented that she had studied European History in school, but she found the “Dinner, Daber & Dvar” class insightful because she learned about events in history from a Jewish perspective.

Temple Israel offered “What They Didn’t Teach You in Hebrew School,” which focused on text study and modern discussion of perennial issues. Taught by Rabbi Joshua Neely, the class gave teens the opportunity to wrestle with the problems of modern times using Jewish wisdom as a guide for these difficult topics.

Chabad Lubavitch of North Orlando offered a three-part series of classes. The three sessions each included six classes on Wednesday nights. Class topics included: “Why I Love Israel” (looking at both ancient and modern ties to Israel), “Hollywood Idol” (a deeper look into the values portrayed in film and television), and “Complicated Me” (spiritual insights into the anatomy of the human soul and psyche). Classes were taught by Rabbi Yanky Majesky. The course was well attended, and students said they thoroughly enjoyed the wide variety of topics covered.

A community-wide Jewish Teen Education Day in November brought Orlando’s Jewish teens together for group sessions and breakout programs that focused on social justice. The guest facilitator for the day was actress, educator and activist Naomi Ackerman.

Students were challenged to think about justice in their own personal lives, in their community and on a global level. One of the primary goals of Teen Education Day was for students to leave feeling empowered to find new ways of affecting change in their community and the world, as well as being mindful about how they deal with the people they come in contact with on a daily basis.

Lisa Sholk, the Federation’s JTEN coordinator, said the first year of the program exceeded all expectations.

“Meeting the needs of today’s teens is challenging and ever-changing,” Sholk said. “Through JTEN, the community is able to come together and share ideas about what works and doesn’t work. But most importantly, it has enabled teens to remain connected to Jewish learning, synagogue life and outlets for experiencing Judaism in new ways.”

For information on applying for a 2015-2016 JTEN grant, please email jten@jfgo.org.


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