Reshet, the UK’s network for Jewish Youth Provision, held its inaugural conference this week, “21st Century Teens.” It was the first conference, of its kind, in the UK for nearly 20 years and it brought together over 200 informal Jewish educators and teens from Jewish schools, synagogues and youth movements.
The conference, which was supported by The Children’s Aid Committee addressed issues specific to teenagers that many practitioners within the Jewish community are grappling with, such as teen culture, involvement and empowerment.
True to Reshet’s belief of empowering young people the conference was chaired by Hannah Brady (President, UJS) and Anthony Ashworth-Steen (UJIA Director of Informal Education and Israel Engagement). Talking about the conference, which had 4 distinct themes (Connection & Connectivity, Israel, Technology and Pressures on Young People) they said, “Through gathering like this we have taken an active move towards giving young people a platform to speak from in the community. We must recognise that young people are different today and think about how we take that and adapt as a community to stay relevant.”
For the conference Reshet welcomed two keynote speakers from the US: Dr David Bryfman, Chief Innovation Officer at The Jewish Education Project and Scott Fried, an international award-winning speaker and youth educator.
One of his Bryfman’s key messages was to recognise that teenagers today are very different from every previous generation. Technology has changed, learning has changed yet fundamentally some institutions have remained the same for the last 100 years. He simply asked, “Why haven’t we adapted sooner?” He observed, “We should stop looking at Bar and Bat Mitzvah as a graduation from Jewish life but more a launch pad for further opportunity and growth.”
Fried focused on prevalent issues faced by young people, such as sexuality, self-harm and eating disorders, and the impact it can have on their engagement. His advice included how to equip yourself as an informal educator to deal with very personal and sensitive topics. He urged, “We must listen for the things teenagers aren’t saying, we must look for the things teenagers aren’t showing and we must love the things they have not yet learned to love in themselves.”