Year Round Programs A complicated time to be a teen

By Young Judaea

By Erica Cohen, Director of Teen Education

“We have to take back Zionism…don’t let anyone else tell you what Zionism means to you.”

“It was so meaningful to put my feelings about Israel into words.”

As the Director of Teen Education for Young Judaea, I was lucky enough to witness many vulnerable moments like these between teens at the inaugural NJ iTeen Summit that happened this past Sunday, at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades. Over 75 teens, parents, and educators came together to learn, dialogue, and be in community for one day.

This teen-centered conference provided a deep-dive into the complex Israel dialogue that Jewish American teens are finding themselves surrounded by in the post-October 7 world. They grappled with the question of where their relationship to Israel and their values intersect, utilizing maps and historical facts to support their evolving assertions with brand new programming. In other rooms, teens studied about power, vulnerability and responsibility after October 7, and how to manage increased tensions with family and friends in this hot sociopolitical climate. Throughout the day, they had opportunities to learn from and with the many accomplished Israel educators.

The last six months have been a complicated time to be a Jewish American teen.

Often faced with competing messages that challenge the synergy of their values, sometimes receiving one set of messages at school, one at home, and another on the vast internet universe, teens rarely have a place where they can dialogue without defense, or access the opportunity for nuance.

This moment has never been more ripe for Young Judaea to provide high quality, immersive access to Israel education – to those teens already in the YJ ecosystem, and beyond. The NJ iTeen Summit, hopefully an annual and replicable event, was an example of this goal in action.

It seems that Young Judaea is a legacy movement at a grassroots moment, and we, alongside the teens, have big plans.

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