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¬†August ushers in the start of a new academic year, and it’s often the most active time for the Federation’s Jewish Teen Education Network (JTEN) as we work with both teens and teachers to help prepare them for the challenges that lie ahead.

This year we had two big JTEN events in the span of less than a week. First, Aug. 6-7, nearly 40 teens gathered at Camp Challenge in Sorrento for “New Beginnings,” our first-ever Communitywide Teen Education Retreat.

All of the retreat’s learning sessions were tied into the theme of Rosh Hashanah – new beginnings, making a fresh start and being more mindful in the new school year and new Jewish year. The retreat wasn’t all business, of course. Teens participated in icebreakers and other social activities, a campfire (with s’mores) and a sing down led by Amy Geboff of Congregation Ohev Shalom.

Day Two opened with a prayerful meditation led by Rabbi Joshua Neely, followed by a Shacharit morning service and nature walk. Daniel Nabatain and Lauren Oback of Congregation of Reform Judaism oversaw the morning learning sessions. As the program drew to an end in the afternoon, Dr. Sheryl Sacharoff (Congregation of Reform Judaism) led the closing session, inspired by Mr. Roger’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Five days later, on Aug. 12, it was the teachers’ turn to share and learn during “Building Your Teachers’ Toolkit,” a daylong workshop held at Congregation Ohev Shalom. The workshop was a collaborative effort between the Federation and the JTEN Educators of six synagogues – Congregation Beth Am, Congregation Ohev Shalom, Congregation of Reform Judaism, Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation, Temple Israel and Temple Shir Shalom.

We were honored to host 50 teachers representing more than 700 combined years of teaching experience!

Prior to the workshop, teachers submitted their “best” lesson plans, which served as the launch point for a discussion focusing on creative and innovative ways educators can be most effective in the classroom. The lesson plans were compiled and saved on JTEN-branded flash drives that were given to each teacher as their Teacher’s Toolkit, which they can continue to build. The Federation plans to make these and future lesson plans available for download by educators via the Federation website.

While seeing the impact these programs have in our community is a reward in itself, it is always heartening to receive positive feedback. People who attended the retreat told me that it was inspiring to see the teens so engaged in meaningful learning experiences, and the teachers at the workshop were thrilled to have the opportunity to interact and share their great ideas.

We’re grateful for the work of our JTEN Educators: Rabbi Joshua Neely, Amy Geboff, Cantor Kim Singer, Dr. Sheryl Sacharoff and Cantor Nina Fine. Rabbi Hillel Skolnik was also instrumental in helping to plan the workshop before he moved out of state.

JTEN is a signature Federation program that fulfills one of our core objectives to help educate the Jewish community. We couldn’t offer such robust JTEN programming without your support, and we thank you for making this month’s successes possible.