What do teens want? To connect with themselves and each other in ways that are fun and meaningful. What do teens need? To feel seen and heard — socially, spiritually, and emotionally. As you know, today’s teenagers live in a world that is constantly changing and increasingly overwhelming. If we don’t engage them with authenticity and meaning in the Jewish life we love, more and more of them will be lost to us before they leave for college.
What is Federation doing about this communal challenge? We created the Los Angeles Jewish Teen Initiative (LAJTI).
The goal of the Los Angeles Jewish Teen Initiative is to dramatically increase the number of post-b’nai mitzvah Jewish teens engaged in compelling Jewish experiences that give them the tools to lead healthy and fulfilled lives. Here is an outline of what we are doing to make it happen:
The Teen Program Accelerator was launched to diversify the activities teens can engage in and strengthen the organizations that provide them. It empowers the professionals who work with teens with two years of specialized coaching and connects these frontline responders with each other, creating a landscape of possibilities. “My network has gone through the roof,” said JQ International’s Anna Goodman. She was just one of many teen educators from eight Cohort 1 organizations charged with making sure under-engaged teens throughout Los Angeles can find their place in Jewish life.
In May 2017, Cohort I of the Accelerator celebrated two years of learning and connecting and welcomed Cohort II. The excitement generated by this program was hard to miss as the teen educators connected with each other and shared their successes.
“The members of the Accelerator create a sense of belonging and inspiration for L.A. teens by providing safe spaces for them to explore their Jewish identities as they expand their networks,” said Federation’s Shira Rosenblatt, Senior Vice President, Jewish Education and Engagement.
The Accelerator is a core program of LAJTI, co-funded by the Federation and the Jim Joseph Foundation, with seed funding provided by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, and in partnership with UpStart, ETZAH – an initiative of the AJU Graduate Center for Education, and BJE Impact.
The Teen Innovation Awards were created to give teens the support and resources they need to turn their ideas into reality. Recently named The Julie Beren Platt Innovation Awards (see inset), the “for-teens-by-teens” inaugural year generated nine winning projects, comprised of almost 30 teens ages 13-18 who received up to $1,500 each to develop their ideas.
“It inspired out-of-the-box thinking and gave me new ideas,” said one participant. “I got a realistic idea of what it would be like to run a business.” Ideas included art exhibitions about social issues, recording Jewish music for a Shabbat service, and more. Teens were matched with a mentor, who guided and helped them. Many of the mentors were alumni of Federation leadership programs. We congratulate the 2017 winners and look forward to the big ideas to come.
These are just two ways the Los Angeles Jewish Teen Initiative is reaching its goal to engage teens in Jewish life in ways that are authentic and meaningful to them by connecting with teens and strengthening the organizations that serve them. We look forward to continued success as we work together toward a shared Jewish future that includes all Jewish teenagers.
For more information about LAJTI, please contact Jessica Green, Vice President, Jewish Education and Engagement, at (323) 761-8343 or JGreen@JewishLA.org.
The Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Awards: Proof that Philanthropy Begins at Home
Thanks to a generous gift made by Julie Platt’s children Samantha, Jonah, Hannah, Ben, and Henry, LAJTI has named The Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovations Award in her honor. Matched by the Jim Joseph Foundation, this award will help 10 teens bring their big ideas to life every year for the next 10 years. It celebrates Chair of the Board Julie Platt’s longstanding commitment to strengthening Jewish identity for Jewish teens.
“I was deeply moved by the gift my children made to The Jewish Federation and in particular to the Los Angeles Jewish Teen Initiative,” said Julie. “They are each in their own way already giving back to the Jewish community, and I couldn’t be more proud of this beautiful reflection of their goodness. I am very grateful.”
The logo design was inspired by the siblings and includes a multi-jeweled Lion of Judah pin, including their five birthstones and that of their father Marc Platt. It features a sunflower, the state flower of Julie’s home state of Kansas and the favorite flower of her beloved mother Joan S. Berenz”l, whose leadership and philanthropy both inspired her daughter and lives on in her grandchildren.