Cohort 5 at Shabbat Dinner: Front Row (L to R) - Dr. Evie Rotstein, Ali Greenland, Tara Levine, Forest Yesnes, Caryn Roman; Second Row - Alex Null, Josh Rosenthal, Melissa Frey, Meg Batavia; Back Row - Jacki Altman, Jonah Potasznik, Ethan Lane-Miller, PJ Schwartz, Seth Marion, Kara Liu, Aaron Gurvis
Fourteen youth educators walk, silently, into a room and sit in a circle. In front of each one is a hand drum or other small percussion instrument. Within the course of less than an hour, the whole group will use these instruments to create new musical rhythms to the beat of Sh’ma, exploring the value of listening and its importance in prayer.
A morning drum circle was but one unique experience in a week packed full of learning, teaching, evaluating and community-building for the students in the fifth cohort of HUC-JIR’s Certificate in Jewish Education for Adolescents and Emerging Adults (CAEA). CAEA’s Winter Institute, held in New York January 3-10, 2016, showcased the cultural and historical treasures of NYC as vehicles for effective and engaging experiential Jewish education and offered a living laboratory for student experimentation and reflection.
“The Winter Institute brought me closer to Jewish youth engagement in three ways: it showed me dynamic, innovative strategies for empowering young Jews to be leaders of a community; it gave me access to the experts shaping our field; and connected me to a group of peers who both challenge and support me as we work together on a sacred mission,” said Jonah Potasznik, who works full-time as Regional Director of BBYO’s DC Council.
Classroom sessions focused on furthering students’ understanding of adolescents’ emotional and developmental needs and on integrating classical Jewish text into experiential programming. Specialized electives taught by a wide range of experts focused on design thinking, creative improvisation, liturgical interpretation, and teaching Jewish values through martial arts.
“All of the [elective] activities are things I can take home - and even if something didn't directly resonate with my work, it still pushed me to think creatively,” said Forrest Yesnes, Youth Educator at Shir Tikvah Congregation in Minneapolis, MN.
Dr. Evie Rotstein, Coordinator of the program, shared that this program helps to professionalize the field of Jewish Youth Engagement. “Our CAEA students are grateful for the unique opportunity to experience high-level learning, together with the support of a mentor who is an experienced professional in the field, someone who helps them translate theory into action and offers guidance throughout the nine month program.”
The cohort spent Friday evening at “Shabbat After Dark”, a musical Kabbalat Shabbat service and oneg geared towards 20s and 30s at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “I enjoyed the worship experiences and thought they were all out of the box ways of looking at prayer. I look forward to using what I learned in my work back home,” said Alex Null, Assistant Director for Year-Round Programs at URJ Greene Family Camp in Dallas, TX.
"Having the whole CAEA cohort together in New York was a gift on many levels,” said CAEA Associate Coordinator Caryn Roman (MARE ‘17). “Being able to spend quality time building relationships, learning and socializing together, and having the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat as a cohort community made the week incredibly special for all of us involved in the program."
HUC-JIR’s Certificate in Jewish Education for Adolescents and Emerging Adults offers youth professionals working with youth and young adults a nine-month program of study focused on topics critical to working with youth, teens, and young adults. The program consists of online courses, face-to-face intensives, a 7-day institute, mentorship, and a field-related action project. For more information or to apply for the 2016-17 Cohort, click here.