Meaningful Experiences to Engage Youth

Meaningful Experiences to Engage Youth

By: Sharon Solomon Posted: February 27, 2020

How do we have a purposeful engagement with our students and empower them with a sense of meaning and belonging?

Part of our students’ journey toward becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah at Temple Beth Sholom includes becoming involved in social action or mitzvah projects. We encourage the students and families to begin the mitzvah project quest early in the b’nei mitzvah process in order to allow students not only to explore different areas in need in our local community but also to possibly discover areas of personal interest by investigating different organizations that may spark an interest and curiosity in the students which may eventually turn into a passion.
In order to start the process of mitzvah inquiry and engagement we ask the students and families to answer the following essential questions:

What am I good at? What do I like to do? What bothers me about world issues that I actually want to help? Do I know anyone that needs my help?

Over the years, we found that students and families were having a hard time answering these questions and also had a difficult time carving out the time to talk and go out into the community for an experience such as visiting a shelter with their children. Shifts in school expectations and extra-curricular activities have over-crowded other meaningful opportunities for families and have been dominating their time. Parents crave to provide meaningful experiences for their children but find it almost impossible when competing with school, family obligation and social engagements.

The more we talked about these topics we noticed that students and parents do want to get involved in chesed/kindness opportunities but live such busy lives that the opportunities are so seldom and limited. One thing that did resonate is that parents wanted ongoing/long term opportunities for their kids to engage in meaningful and helpful interaction in their local communities which will be built into the Religious School program.

So off I went on a journey to find an opportunity for TBS up and coming b’nei mitzvah students to have a Gemilut Chasadim project – acts of loving kindness which is a non-financial endeavor. Giving of one’s time and talent and effort and making personal connections in our local community.

Therefore, I reached out to TBS talented and dedicated staff and together with Hanna Harel, I went on a journey to apply for a grant through the Legacy Heritage Foundation. This grant allows us, over a four-year period, to bring our Zayin students (7th graders) to the Atria Senior Center in Roslyn Harbor. It is our goal and belief that our students and the senior community will learn from one another, engage with one another, and through a variety of fun and inclusive activities, become friends. More important than that is that intergenerational engagement was taking place. We were fortunate to have been granted this enormous opportunity.

Through this grant, our students have monthly scheduled activities with the seniors and their program has evolved into something greater and more wonderful than what we ever imagined. We thought that the students were the ones who will mostly engage the seniors but as it turns out, these meetings have created bonds and buddies beyond what we anticipated. Students can’t wait to return each month to the Atria and the level of enthusiasm increases from gathering to gathering. It is a sheer joy and blessing to watch the students arrive at the Atria Center in Roslyn and race over to their senior buddies and see how they are doing. Both seniors and students thrive at each gathering through their mutual interactions.

So when people ask me today how to engage our b’nei mitzvah students, I tell them to find connections with people, the community and with family. These deep connections can only happen when we create opportunities and carve out time for deep and real experiences. It is important that we teach the theory and Jewish texts behind all that we do regarding Jewish values (middot). But when combining the texts into actual reality, we are creating experiences that will last a lifetime during these formative years of our students.

I am so grateful for this great Legacy Heritage Better Together grant. But even more so I am grateful to the students who are investing their time, effort, energy and their hearts in connecting with these amazing, caring seniors in our community. They reciprocate with so much love and care for our students as well.

I want to extend an enormous heartfelt thank you to our dedicated staff, Rabbi Moskowitz, Susan Daniels, Silvia Kogan and Hanna Harel, grant coordinator, for enriching the lives of our students and seniors in the Roslyn community.


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To read more monthly news, read our most recent Bulletin-March-April-2020.