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Clergy Column by Rabbi Jeremy Morrison


Our Teen Program is Thriving
January/February 2022

A Sunday Morning in November, 10:45 AM

I am sitting at my desk, responding to a few emails, when suddenly I see, through my office window, our 6th and 7th grade students gathering together to play gaga and other cooperative games. The students are playing in the open space bordered by our administrative building and the library, while having their mid-morning snacks. It is a beautiful California morning and what a beautiful sight to see our students together, learning, praying and socializing! It is also a sight that I didn’t see at all last year because we conducted our education program almost entirely online. Since I know many of you who will be reading this article do not presently have children enrolled in our school and thus aren’t at Beth Am on Sundays or Wednesdays, I want to share with you what I’m seeing.

The kids are in the middle of an active day. My rabbinic colleagues and I have been teaching a year-long course to the 7th grade students; its goal: to enable our students to become thoughtful readers of Torah. We have focused on the Book of Genesis. As part of our session this morning (9-10 A.M.), we examined a series of artists’ representations of Jacob wrestling with a divine messenger: our students really delved into this interpretive activity. As I look out my window, I see a number of 7th graders who participated in our 7th Grade B’nei Mitzvah Family Retreat at Camp Newman at the end of October. 18 families joined the clergy and education teams for a deeply meaningful 24 hours of learning and socializing. This offsite experience, which we postponed for a year, has enriched our weekly study sessions. My clergy colleagues and I are truly getting to know our students, and in turn, they are developing deeper relationships with us.

The 6th and 7th graders are hungry, noisy and they’re happy (although they might not admit it). They’ve just finished Tefilah in our Outdoor Chapel, led by Cantor Shpall. The Cantor, along with some musical assistance, leads three(!) sessions of Tefilah each Sunday. All of the students in our school have the wonderful experience of learning and praying with the Cantor every Sunday. She’s a joyful force! After snack, at 11:15 AM, many of the 7th graders will join Cantor Shpall for our Beit Midrash program, in which our students prepare for their B’nei Mitzvah. Sundays are very busy for her.

In the middle of this large group of kids stands Lauren Bohne, our new Teen Education Program Director, and she is doing a remarkable job, not only in these moments of snack and games as she ensures that all the kids are included in the activities, but day in and day out. She has been working with great dedication to improve our programs for our 6th-12th grades, while also developing relationships with many of our teens. It’s likely too, as she leads the group, that Lauren is thinking about what’s next in the day: a training session for our Madrichim (teen classroom assistants). We have 50 (!) Madrichim this year; you can spot them from afar because of their orange shirts. They’re a very helpful group: shepherding our youngest students around our campus; leading small groups in the classroom; helping students learn the prayers that they’ll lead at their B’nei Mitzvah services.

Lauren is likely already planning for the upcoming session of our Wednesday Night Teen Program. My clergy colleagues and I, along with Sarah Lauing, our excellent Director of Learning and Educational Innovation, spent all of last year teaching and meeting with our teen community online. This year, students and teachers alike have reveled in the opportunity to join together each week, on campus. I wish you could see it. Presently 60 students have opted to take a break from the stresses of their days, and join together for dinner and study with the clergy, our Education Team and guest teachers. During the past couple of weeks, a group of parents have been joining us for dinner as well: 15 parents have come together to explore with me a new curriculum developed by the Shalom Hartman Institute called Foundations for A Thoughtful Judaism.

Last year, as an element of the strategic priority that we titled, Our Future is Here: Youth Education, we stated that two of our goals are to create more meaningful pathways of Jewish practice that will result in a stronger sense of engagement among 6th and 7th grade families, and to develop a meaningful and stimulating environment in which teens will explore their Jewish identities, practice Judaism with their peers and create a caring teen community. Through a dedicated collaboration between the clergy and education teams, along with the support of our Education Committees led by Debbie Mukamal, I realize, as I look out my office window on this lovely morning, that I’m beginning to see the fruits of our efforts.


Rabbi Jeremy Morrison

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782