JTEEN Conference, Year 1, What We Learned

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By Erica Hruby

When Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Network (JTEEN) launched in February 2019, the excitement was contagious. Within its first four months, JTEEN membership more than doubled, growing from twenty-eight Hebrew High directors to sixty-seven professionals serving the gambit of Jewish teen education and engagement organizations across the country and in Israel. This 14-year old start-up (NAACCHHS rebranded) led with a new name, an inclusive mission, and a new focus on “bringing into the fold” a broader scope of professionals who work with Jewish teens as well as the local, national, and international organizations that design curriculum, resources, workshops, initiatives, and programs for them.

The enthusiasm around this one-of-a-kind, newly minted 501c3 carried over to the annual conference in Houston, June 2-4, hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston. The thirty-five conference participants represented a dynamic range of Jewish teen professionals including those in Hebrew highs programs, youth groups, Federation education departments, synagogues, JCCs, gap year programs, and partner organizations.

Of the eighteen presentations over the course of three days, some of the highlights were Gen Xers as parents and digital addition with Betsy Stone, infusing imagination into our work with Kari Saratovsky of Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies, using storytelling to convey an organization’s message with Taryn Baranowski of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, building an LGBTQ affirming and inclusive community with Justin Rosen Smolen of Keshet, and Jodi Goldberg’s presentation and discussion of The Jewish Education Project’s GenZ Now research results.

So, what did we learn during our time together?

  • Professionals working with Jewish teens, regardless of their focus (i.e. teen philanthropy, Hebrew high, service corps, youth group, etc.), are looking for the same things. They seek a professional community that is knowledgeable, energetic, supportive, collaborative, and passionate about making the world a better place for Jewish teens.
  • Network is best when used as a verb! It is not about simply being in the same professional community; it is about learning from and collaborating with one another as a way to create and improve opportunities for our teens and the professionals who serve them.
  • Professional development is also about personal development. Those who have been in the field for a while and those who are new to the field expressed a need to regularly engage in conversations about things like work/life balance, mental and physical wellness, self-advocacy, and the like.
  • Peer to peer pairing/mentoring is needed in the field now more than ever. The benefits of spending quality directed time with someone who has experience in the area(s) that we are working – and who isn’t one’s direct supervisor – makes a big difference in the success rate of early professionals. It is that knowledge of the nuanced work we do that creates a feeling of real support in our first few years.
  • Many professionals working with teens hold multiple positions within their organization and/or hold several jobs within multiple organizations. Teen specific work, within the Jewish professional world, is often perceived as a “stepping stone” position instead of as a long-term career. National organizations like JTEEN can enhance the field by showing the professional nature of the work and the impact it has on the teens served and the Jewish communal landscape as a whole.

JTEEN looks forward to continuing is monthly webinar series (3) series, development of our “professional resource toolbox,” collaborative programming/grant-making, and annual conference. This is just the beginning of what is possible to support and engage Jewish teen professionals.

Erica Hruby is the Director of JTEEN.