Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Year at the Youth House

(Originally published in the Temple Israel Voice, May 13, 2011.)

As this is the last Youth House column of the school year, and therefore the last one that I will write as Youth House Director, I would like to walk back through my brief yet moving tenure in that position.

The view from my second-floor office has, like all the rooms in the Youth House, glass walls; it affords me a slightly removed perspective on the goings-on in the building. I see the door and those coming in and out; I can supervise the lobby and some of the well, and I can get a sense of some of the classrooms. Over the past year I have learned that in working with teens, there are times to watch from above, and times to roll up one’s sleeves and dive in.

We began the year in an understated way, with a burial of holy books in the back yard. In the second year of the genizah project, we did not have as much material to bury, but we had just as much fun digging in the soil and getting ourselves dirty, concluding with a somber ceremony. The next event was a trip to Lido Beach on the south shore, and although Moji was almost carried away by the riptide, we all managed to return safe and slightly tanned.

The High Holidays for 5771 were front-loaded, so Itamar and Joe pulled together Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur programs for teens even as we were trying to get our classes off the ground. The Limo Scavenger Hunt, an annual tradition, took place in the middle of Sukkot, and one of the stops was in the Adelson sukkah, which was brightly lit with what some call “Christmas lights,” although I prefer the term “holiday lights.” Just after Simhat Torah, we took off for the Fall Retreat at Camp Ramah in Nyack. The weather was crisp, the food was great, and the sky was clear enough for star-gazing on Saturday night. We bonded and hiked down to the Hudson for Sunday morning tefillot before taking the worst-ever bus ride home.

On Martin Luther King Day weekend, we took a trip to Jiminy Peak, my hometown ski area, to play in the snow, and donned tefillin while crowded into a budget motel room. February saw the madly successful trip to Israel, which took 39 teenagers to Eretz haQodesh, many of whom for the first time, with the extraordinarily generous support of the Khorshid Dina Harounian Israel Education Fund.

On Purim we read Megillat Esther for the whole congregation, and during Pesah we took over the sanctuary to lead services, and our parents and friends swooned to the lovely voices of our teen volunteers. And then the following week we sauntered out to the Catskills for our Spring Retreat, where we made our own pizzas and discussed aspects of being holy.

And let’s not forget that we hosted nearly 150 guests for the USY Chazak Division’s annual Spring Kinnus, a gargantuan feat that many in our community contributed to.

A new program called Team Tikkun, coordinated by Zina Rutkin-Becker, helped a group of our teens determine their charitable goals and find appropriate charities that met them. Their efforts to repair the world, accomplished with the generous assistance of the Benjamin Ziegelbaum Memorial Trust Fund, will give back to others in powerful ways.

Five of our seniors went out on another Temple Israel first: March of the Living, a program that takes high school juniors and seniors to Poland and to Israel; as I write this, they are celebrating Yom Haatzmaut in Jerusalem.

And of course, throughout the year were scattered our assortment of Family Friday Night dinners, sometimes accompanied by our own service, and more often in conjunction with Cantor Frieder’s moving, musical Neranena service. And we also had regular shul-ins, all-night-long gatherings of junk food and teen camaraderie.

Congratulations to our fearless President, Ari Panzer, for stepping up to the plate as a leader and helping to cultivate a new Board. Yishar koah to Joe and Itamar, for making all of our activities worthwhile, fun, and educational. Immense gratitude goes to Moji for being there to help me make all the important decisions, and to the rest of the teaching staff - Tziona, Brandon, Lauren, Rabbi Stecker, and Cantor Frieder - for making the academic side of the Youth House flourish this year.

As we make a transition to our new director, I will be spending more time watching from above than getting my hands dirty. But I will surely be at the Youth House to teach as well as to help out when I can, moving forward. Join us to help build on what was a stellar year.

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