By Chana Rusanov, The Jewish Standard
Rabbi Michel Gurkov of the Chabad Center of Passaic County in Wayne, NJ, aims to “get teens more involved in Judaism via a fun environment with a positive influence.”
To that end, CTeens — from “Chabad Teens” — begins on Sunday, Sept. 6. It is part of a worldwide Chabad initiative of that name intended to foster friendships between clubs, and provide a basic framework for participating organizations. A local pilot group was held last year.
CTeens is open to all Jewish teens in the community regardless of affiliation and will meet three times a month at the Chabad Center.
Yaakov Kornitzer, the Wayne program’s director, has been involved in both Hebrew school and bar mitzvah preparation targeted at pre-teens, as well as college outreach focused on young adults. His says that his firsthand view of the gap in outreach programs for young teens pushed him to change the status quo at his Chabad Center.
The result was TAG, the Teen Action Group started last year with a handful of 13- to 14-year-olds. Through TAG, Kornitzer says, he was able to maintain and build on the relationships he already had with the teens from previous years as they entered the turbulent years of high school.
This year, as CTeens, the group will include 15-year-old members, and Kornitzer hopes it will grow to encompass all teenage groups.
The program is designed to walk a fine line of fun and religion at every get-together, with the purpose of showing teens that the two can coexist. Laser tag and “Friday Night Live,” New York City tours and Mexican fiestas set the stage for an engaging, supportive social scene, Gurkov said, a factor the he believes is vital for Jewish growth. Community volunteer work is also a focus, enabling teens to contribute to others through acts of kindness.
The lesson units, prepared by the Jewish Learning Institute, are modeled after college courses; they will open with a film clip or a provocative article. Topics for discussion may include “Where was God during the Holocaust?” “What’s the role of Jewish women?” “What is the purpose of life?”
The biannual Shabbaton in New York is a highlight of the program. All CTeen chapters will converge and local and international members will be able to connect.
Some members join following Hebrew school, some hear of the club from their parents who have connections to the Chabad center. But according to Kornitzer, the best publicity is word of mouth. Teens come because this isn’t a forced activity as Hebrew school often is, he says. They choose to participate in events and learn more about their heritage, and, increasingly, they bring their friends.
“We want to give every Jewish teen a chance to have a good time, learn more, grow spiritually, and become more involved in the greater Jewish community,” Kornitzer sums up.
For more information, visit www.jewishwayne.com