Jewish tenth-, eleventh- and twelfth-graders from around the Lehigh Valley have been gathering together with Temple Beth El’s Shalshelet youth group for years for fun and fellowship. Now, the concept is getting a makeover, as TBE and the Jewish Federation team up to offer teens a new, engaging experience.
A contest is being held to name this new group. Teens are encouraged to submit one creative name option. On Sept. 30, a poll will be posted on the Federation Facebook page. The winner will receive a mystery box.
Gavriel Siman-Tov, the Federation’s community shaliach from Israel, will work with Alicia Zahn to bring together teens from across the Lehigh Valley to explore Israel, Jewish life, leadership and much more.
“It is not Hebrew School, and it is not a youth group. Instead, it is a space for Jewish teens to explore topics of their choice in a safe and welcoming atmosphere,” said Zahn.
All Jewish tenth- through twelfth-graders in the Valley are welcome to participate in the experience, which will meet on Monday evenings, about twice a month.
“We are looking for a diversity in backgrounds to encourage diverse viewpoints. You do not need to be a member of a synagogue or have any previous Judaic knowledge. Or you may have attended a Jewish school your entire life and be heavily involved in your synagogue and youth group. Whatever your background, you are welcome!” said Zahn.
The first meeting will be held at the Jewish Community Center of the Lehigh Valley, but locations will rotate to be as inclusive as possible. At each session, a different presenter will introduce a topic, usually one that students have requested, and facilitate a discussion or activity lasting for a little over an hour. The guest presenters are brought in specifically as they are connected to the particular topic.
“Students in the past have usually focused on three things - social justice, Israel, and what we will call ‘teen issues.’ In recent years, we have explored free speech, sexuality in Torah, criminal justice, Zionism, suicide, gun control, body image, antisemitism, Israeli food, refugees, and many, many more topics, some heavy and some lighter,” explained Zahn.
There will also be hearty individual snacks or light dinner provided. Due to COVID, at this time masks are required at all times during the dialogue portion of the session, regardless of vaccination status. Eating will only be permitted during a specific snack time when students are to remain in designated seats distanced from one another, but still able to socialize. Snack time is the only time unmasking is permitted.
Students are encouraged to attend even if they cannot make it to every meeting.
“We know how busy teen schedules can be, and we are set up so that students can miss a session when needed but still come to the next one and be completely connected and engaged. This is because each session is self-contained with a different topic,” said Zahn.
This year is set to offer a new and exciting experience with the new name and format with Siman-Tov’s involvement.
“We are so excited that Gavriel Siman-Tov will be coordinating this year. He will be at each session and help the group to bond so all students feel safe to share their views. He will also find out what topics students are most interested in exploring and coordinate engaging presenters on those topics,” said Zahn.
To enter the renaming contest, visit https://tinyurl.com/cptrxcye.
Tuition is $300 per student for the year, which includes all dinners and sessions. There is also an optional day trip at the end of the year, for which most of the trip costs are covered. Scholarships are available. To learn more, to sponsor a snack, or to sign up, contact Gavriel Siman-Tov at firstname.lastname@example.org or Alicia Zahn at email@example.com.