Emanu-El Teens: Role Models for our Community

By Rachel Brumberg

“Teens on Emanu-El’s A-TEEM are role models who are determined, kind and motivating. We are constantly improving the Temple Emanu-El community and ourselves through a positive outlook and a clear set of values. As role models, we share our knowledge and experiences to enrich the lives of our students. We show that living by the values we learn is possible.”
Definition of “Role Model,” written by the 2015-16 A-TEEM
and re-affirmed annually by the teens who participate in
Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York’s high school internship program.

The A-TEEM (Assistant Temple Emanu-El Madrichim) is a learning, working and teaching experience geared to involve 9th -12th graders in all aspects of the Religious School. These high school leaders work in the school office, interact with students and engage in Jewish study. Participating in the A-TEEM allows teens to forge new relationships with peers, clergy, staff and the greater Temple community. (It is also worth noting, that these teens have fun while doing all of this.)

When I started working at Emanu-El’s Religious School 13 years ago, there were two high school students who “worked” on Sunday mornings. This usually meant that they would sit in the office until something needed to be delivered. Once I began to understand the routine of the school day, it was clear that we should be doing something more productive with their time. I had experience in running Jewish education internship programs for college and graduate students, so we knew that we could create a program combining these resources. The following year we launched the A-TEEM based on the premise that we had high school students that wanted to gain skills and stay connected to the Temple, and that the school had tasks that could best be completed by these teens.

Creating the A-TEEM turned out to be a wise decision, and over the past 12 years the size of this program has grown to 15-20 participants annually. As the director of the A-TEEM, I am often the only person who gets to hear the stories of these teen leaders and reflect with them on their experiences, accomplishments and growth. Before they become part of the A-TEEM, I meet with these teens to learn about why they want to participate. The answers I hear always fill me with pride as they tell me about their memories of A-TEEMers coming into their classrooms, wanting to stay connected to the Temple and giving back to the community. Many are also excited to have their first real work experience be in a familiar and supportive environment.

At the start of each year during A-TEEM Orientation, I have the teens fill out a worksheet about their goals for participating and the skills that they would like to develop. Over time I saw a powerful theme emerging from their answers: the teens see themselves as role models for the younger students in the school. While we have many teen programs at Emanu-El, the A-TEEM is the only one that happens while the younger students are in the building so that they become role models for post-b’nai mitzvah engagement in our community. And indeed, the A-TEEM has had a strong positive impact on the school culture. Through their active involvement in the classrooms and around the building, they are living proof that there is a place for teens in our community. I make sure that their daily routines include ways for them to be visible to students, teachers and parents so that multiple populations are aware of this valuable resource. One place where the impact is clear is with the annual A-TEEM video which they put together highlighting the program in an informative and entertaining way. Students look forward to seeing it, and prospective A-TEEMers tell me that one of the reasons why they want to be on the A-TEEM is because of what they’ve seen for years in these videos.

The anecdotes that I hear from my meetings with the teens are powerful evidence of the program’s ongoing success: actively engaged teens helping to recruit the next generation of teen role models. And while I love hearing that the vision we had for creating a program to keep teens connected to the Temple has proven to be meaningful and successful both in terms of attracting participants and retaining them (many participate in all four years of high school), I felt that it was important that I not be the only person to hear these stories. I therefore enlisted Rachel Goldstein, an A-TEEM alum and filmmaker, to create a video about the A-TEEM so that others can have the opportunity to learn about the impact that this leadership development program has had on both the participants and the Temple. In the end what we created are a series of short videos from a variety of perspectives:

Emanu-El A-TEEM – Full Story: The A-TEEM is Emanu-El’s leadership development program for high school students. Watch this video to learn about the program and how it impacts the school, teachers and of course the teens themselves as they become role models of active engagement in the Temple community post b’nai mitzvah.

Emanu-El A-TEEM – Teen Leaders: Learn from A-TEEMers about why they decided to participate in this Religious School internship program, what they have gained from the skills they have developed and how it feels to be a role model.

Emanu-El A-TEEM – Alumni Reflections: A-TEEM Alumni look back at their time participating in the program and reflect on how the experience helped shape their post-teen lives.

Emanu-El A-TEEM – Teachers’ Thoughts: Faculty members reflect on having A-TEEMers in their classrooms and the influence that these teen leaders have on the younger students.

Emanu-El A-TEEM – Staff Perspective: Saul Kaiserman and Rachel Brumberg go back to the origins of the Religious School internship program and discuss the ways in which the school and the students have benefited from its existence.

Click here for the A-TEEM YouTube channel to access the complete playlist of videos, including the annual end-of-year videos made by the A-TEEMers themselves.

I hope that watching these videos about Emanu-El’s A-TEEM inspires you as it has me.

For more information, contact Rachel Brumberg, Associate Director of Lifelong Learning at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York: rbrumberg@emanuelnyc.org.