As some of Pittsburgh’s teen programming shifted its base from the now defunct Agency for Jewish Learning to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, community members gathered to hear updates and share input regarding plans for the engagement of Jewish youth.
The town hall-style meeting on July 1 brought to the fore outreach to Jewish teens, and the creation of a communal space that could be shared by the many Jewish youth groups in the city.
The AJL, a longtime cornerstone for Jewish education in Pittsburgh, wound up operations as an independent organization last week, with its functions absorbed by the JCC and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. The AJL’s programs for teenagers—including J-SITE, J-Serve (in conjunction with BBYO, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh Volunteer Center and Repair the World), HaZamir Pittsburgh and Hebrew learning programs—all have been transferred to the JCC.
The Federation has assumed responsibility for capacity building for Jewish learning and for the programs that help other agencies, schools and organizations build their own Jewish learning services, including services that focus on early childhood development.
At the top of the agenda at the town hall meeting was space.
At the whiteboard were Rabbi Ron Symons, the new senior director of Jewish Life at the JCC, Carolyn Gerecht, director of J-SITE, and Chris Herman, director of Diller Teen Fellows.
Brian Schreiber, president and CEO of the JCC, said that with its new Department of Jewish life, the JCC is hoping to enlarge educational and engagement opportunities for Jewish teens in Pittsburgh.
“Tonight is about transparency and getting input from the community as we reshape and retool,” said Schreiber. “This is just the beginning of really trying to engage the community and families with teens about the future.”
After that initial welcome, Symons spent most of the meeting raising questions, such as: What do I want in a Jewish teen community? What will success look like? What do I want my teen to feel?
He plans to model the new community teen program along the lines of campus Hillels, which assist various Jewish groups to hold their own programming, as well as organize events for the community as a whole. Symons then shared a plan for a new teen space on the second- floor area of the Robinson Building, formerly the home of the Holocaust Center. Symons asked attendees to imagine it as a coffee shop or lounge, where teens could socialize after school, complete with café tables, bean bag chairs and many, many electrical outlets for charging smartphones and tablets. Attendees then peppered Symons with questions concerning age-appropriate offerings, avoiding the formation of cliques and the need for substantive Jewish learning.
Following the meeting, Mitchell Dubin, an eighth-grader at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School, praised Symons’ efforts to incorporate Torah study into all activities.
“I’ve been a part of things and the Jewishness starts to slip from it,” said Dubin. “I’m hoping [the teen space] has Jewish Life.
Photo provided by JCC of Greater Pittsburgh that Jewish foundation.” Throughout the evening both Symons and Schreiber stressed that the meeting was part of a larger conversation on teen engagement.
“This is the beginning of a conversation. We’re speaking to as many people as possible,” said Symons.
“This is us building it all together.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.