The High Holidays are Coming!

The high holidays are fast approaching, and it’s a great time to reflect on the past, what has worked, and what changes we’d like to make for the coming year. At BJTI, we’ve moved offices (still within the J), which has forced us to clean out and reflect. What worked? Well, it was our most successful year to date. We met with over 300 new teens across Boulder county, held over 80 individual club meetings, and launched a 9th grade follow-up program after an incredibly rewarding year of NaviG8. We made strong connections with our teen leaders, and we were grateful to get to develop such close relationships with the members of our Teen Advisory Board. What were our challenges? We found that pushing clubs in schools were there wasn’t much interest wouldn’t work (no matter how many times we marched donuts and pizza through the hallways), that forcing teens to do anything they aren’t 100% bought into won’t work (no matter how dedicated their parents are), and that we might find progress in unexpected places. While our mission is to give Jewish teens a space to celebrate their culture, we found that non-Jewish teens were also looking for a safe space to be themselves; our greatest byproduct has been the engagement of our non-Jewish teens, who have learned about our culture and can use that knowledge to combat anti-Semitism when they encounter it. The uptick in anti-Semitism in the past few years has not gone unnoticed and Boulder County has been no exception; our teens have learned how to address micro-aggressions before they turn into larger acts of hate, and working together in a larger community has given them a louder voice to speak up against hatred. We are so proud of our participants and the work they’ve done this year, and we are really looking forward to the coming year.

If you are looking to become more involved in the Jewish community as the New Year approaches, please feel free to get in touch with us.

Mental Health: Preventative Care

If you’ve noticed an uptick in teen depression and anxiety, you’re not alone. Social media, growing expectations, and hormonal changes can all affect a person’s mental state, and teens are more susceptible to many of these triggers. One way to help your teens’ emotional well-being could be to help them feel less alone, perhaps by getting involved in local youth groups. A new survey of 17,000 Jewish teens (the largest of its kind), found that “…teens active in a Jewish youth group (regardless of denomination) tend to flourish socially, emotionally and spiritually as compared with those who are not. They also report feeling more connected to being Jewish, have higher self-esteem and better relationships with family, friends and other adults, and feel empowered to make positive change in their world.”

The design of the Boulder Jewish Teen Initiative is to introduce teens to others who share their connection to Judaism.  Our staff is connected to all the Jewish teen organizations in the area, and we are a resource to help you find an organization that best fits you.  We are constantly honing our programming to meet the changing needs of teens today. 

Last week Shayna and I became certified Mental Health First Responders. We know that depression and anxiety are common diagnoses for teens today, and while they are not always preventable, we work to prepare our participants to deal with these feelings when they arise. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has some coping strategies to help those of us who suffer from these common concerns, many of which we address in our teen programming: exercise, deep breathing, healthy eating, taking time for yourself, seeing humor in a situation, accepting chaos, and setting reasonable expectations for yourself. We strive to equip our participants to face the adult world with confidence and strength of character, which we believe come from self-knowledge and self-acceptance. We introduce yoga and meditation, time management skills, addressing peer pressure, and expectation-setting into our programs to make sure our teens are ready to face the challenges coming their way. For more information on how to get involved with BJTI, please get in touch with jessica.bornstein@boulderjcc.org, or shayna.hamburg@boulderjcc.org.

Summer: the Shabbat of the School Year?

What are we supposed to do with our kids over the summer? We’re overwhelmed by options, from traditional summer camps to ninja classes, we could program every minute of our kids’ days if we wanted to. But what if we saw summer as the Shabbat of the school year, a time to power down and plug into our families? Whether you already have a roster of camps and classes on the books, or you’re planning on opening the front door and seeing your kid as the sun goes down, let’s use the summer as a time to practice mindfulness as a family. Boulder has made a business selling mindfulness through potions, powders, and yoga, but these aren’t the only ways to be in the moment and together as a family. Here are just a few ideas we have for how to reconnect to your family this summer:

  1. Family Book Club: Summer reading isn’t just for students. Encourage your teen to share their summer reading list with the family and use it to start a family book club. This will make your teen feel like you’re invested in their homework, and make summer reading fun. When you finish the assigned reading, add one of your favorite books to the list!

  2. Colorado Bucket List: Travel doesn’t have to require days off, tons of money and planning time; get your teens to create a Colorado Bucket List AND make them plan the trip! Give your kids a budget and a maximum driving time and let them plan a trip. Some suggestions: Manitou Springs (including Garden of the Gods and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo), Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Rocky Mountain National Park, Denver Graffiti Walking Tours (including a trip to the new Israeli restaurant, Safta), Dinosaur National Monument, picnics at Gross Reservoir or Woods Quarry, and so much more!

  3. Volunteer as a Family: There are some incredible volunteer opportunities open, even at the Boulder JCC. If you want to be outside, there are spots open to help at Milk & Honey Farm at the J, you can help groom your favorite trails with OSMP or Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, or even work on climbing routes with the Boulder Climbing Community. For a meaningful Jewish connection, you can contact Jewish Family Services to see if there’s a one-time opportunity, or you can sign up as a family to be a friendly visitor and adopt a client to visit weekly.

  4. Shabbat Dinners: Shabbat doesn’t have to be solemn—think of it as a celebration! L’cha Dodi, the song we sing to welcome Shabbat literally talks about it as though we are welcoming a bride into the room for a wedding, so it’s a time to party! Make Friday night dates to have movie nights, board game nights, hikes, and more! Again, if you’re at work all day, leave it to your teens to plan the night, or even cook the dinner.

    Whatever you do and whatever you sign your kids up for this summer, make sure you get some time to reconnect with the people who matter most. And we look forward to connecting with all of you this summer as well—let us know if you want to grab some coffee or ice cream and find out more about BJTI!

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What Happens in Jewish Culture Club?

While each of our clubs has a different personality, a lot of our activities overlap. Our curriculum is set by our incredible Teen Advisory Board of club leadership, and the club presidents collaborate to design their activities. This month we’ve spent a lot of time celebrating Israeli culture through crafting, from watercolors of Israeli landscapes to making kadorei shokolad and hummus together. We’ve found some incredibly artistic teens this way, and learned about Israel’s biodiversity through art. When we’re not making a mess, we’ve been bolstering our self-identities and mental wellness by exploring different types of Judaism, and their availability in Boulder, and meditating with Jewish mandala coloring for Shabbat.

If we’ve learned anything from our professional development work, it’s that teens are more stressed now than ever. We’ve been using our connections with our teen leaders as well as in the clubs to promote mental wellness. We’ve found that crafting in general can be a stress reliever (for more on this, check out CNN’s article on crafting as a meditative activity), and this works in our clubs of all sizes. In our smaller clubs, these intimate activities occupy students’ hands and allow them to relax, which has opened them up to sharing with us and their peers. In the larger clubs, students have to share supplies, which breaks them down into smaller groups and makes them share more than just paints with one another.

Working with these students has really helped us understand their experiences a little more, and given us tools to help them relax better.

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Happy (early) Tu B'Av!

Happy Tu B’Av, or Israeli Valentine’s Day! Tu B’Av is a relatively unknown Jewish holiday that has been translated into a day of love in Israel, usually around August 14th. We can trace Tu B’Av to the beginning of the grape harvest season in biblical times. Makes sense, no? Interestingly, it’s paralleled with Yom Kippur, which is the end of the harvest season, but connotes a much different kind of reflection. This is the parallel I’d like to explore today: the day of love and the day of repentance. We always hear that if you want to love someone else, you must first love yourself. What if this isn’t a modern aphorism, but rather a biblical treatise? You have to repent and accept yourself (Yom Kippur), before you can celebrate your love with your partner (Tu B’Av). We also have to admit that we’re fallible and ask for forgiveness—two key traits for successful partners. So here’s the challenge for us all on this upcoming American Valentine’s Day: how can you embody the new self you embrace on Yom Kippur in your relationship? How can you use this day not to just celebrate your relationship, but also to question where your relationship stands and how you can improve it in the coming year? Use Valentine’s Day as a day of repentance with your partner and don’t just celebrate the new year of your love, but also embrace the vulnerability of that relationship and your role in its maintenance.

So what is this doing on the BJTI blog? Well, partnerships don’t just exist between romantic lovers. Our relationships with our parents and kids are the most important relationships we have. Use these guidelines to remember to interrogate your familial relationships, and to work on them in the same way you’d work on a relationship with a spouse.

New Year, New You?

We hear this phrase so often in January, that we unquestionably embrace it and its underlying assumptions. And what are those assumptions? That we need to be reinvented in some way every single year. That we are not good enough as is. That resolutions must be made and adhered to in order for us to become our best selves, without any thought or reflection as to who we are right now. This is why the Jewish High Holiday cycle makes so much more sense to me: we celebrate who we are, we take time to reflect, and then we resolve to be better. Rosh Hashanah and then Yom Kippur (although I could do without the fasting). And after some thought, I’d like to resolve to reflect more in general. I call this “bringing more Shabbat into my life.” We spend a lot of club sessions focusing on Shabbat, from challah braiding to making Havdallah candles to yoga, and you’ll notice that each of these things touches on some common resolutions as is. We exercise more when we do yoga, but we also focus more. We use less technology when our hands are covered with dough and flour (hopefully). But more than that, I want to spend time embracing all of the elements that made up my Shabbats as a child, and bring them into my every day. We got together with family, we spent time together around the dinner table, we laughed more and worried less, we celebrated the specialness of the occasion. What if we did this every day? What if we sat around the table and just appreciated all of the things that were on it and the people who were around it? What if we took on an attitude of gratitude for the little things? Let us bring more Shabbat into our lives and move a little slower. And in this way we don’t need to make resolutions to change, but rather to accept who we are, maybe even to appreciate it.

We resolve…to try.

Hanukkah 2018

SO MANY JELLY DONUTS! I think I dreamed about jelly donuts for weeks after Hanukkah this year. Every single club wanted to do a Hanukkah party, and we took everything a step further and threw a party for the 7th graders at Casey Middle School, and a Chopped Hanukkah Challenge. This means that Hanukkah lasted for at least two weeks here at BJTI, which made us wonder why everyone was so invested in a holiday that really isn’t that big of a deal to the Jews. So let’s take a minute to think about why. First, there’s the holiday season itself: as Jews, we don’t get to participate in what feels like the biggest holiday in America (Christmas), even though it’s a religious holiday in a secular country. If you’re looking for proof, grocery stores are open on Thanksgiving, but not on Christmas. On Christmas, even if we do celebrate in our homes, a lot of Jews (and non-Christians) feel invisible. So maybe our Hanukkah celebrations are a plea for visibility in a season that often makes us feel overlooked, which makes me wonder, how can we participate in the season without having to over-glorify Hanukkah?

On a day that might just be another day for us, we could be the invisible workforce that so many people really need. Already Jewish nurses, firefighters, police officers, and emergency workers volunteer to work on Christmas to give their Christian counterparts the day off, but the rest of us, and teens, can do more. We can volunteer at soup kitchens, pet shelters, bring cheer to local hospitals and nursing homes, etc. We can bring Hanukkah to our schools, but also remind them of our other holidays; we can teach about our similarities (Hanukkah and Christmas) and our differences (different sabbaths, foods, cultures, etc), and remind each other to embrace both. And we should do the same: ask your friends what their holiday traditions are and share your own. Come up with some new traditions for your friend group: a holiday food exchange (more jelly donuts), watch movies together, exchange homemade gifts, volunteer together, make New Year’s resolutions, etc.

Whatever you do, and whatever your family celebrates, please have a happy holiday season, and a happy New Year! We look forward to seeing you at club in 2019 and hearing about how you spent break!