Happy Passover & A Staff Farewell

Happy Passover & A Staff Farewell

Thank you, Sophie!

As we prepare for the holiday of Passover, we have a great deal to celebrate. It has been an exciting year for NSTI – helping teens turn their passions into action as we traveled to Washington DC, North Carolina and New York; connecting our community in new ways through our Sloane Peer Leadership Fellows program; coming together to help make our world a better place for our Soup-er Sunday and L’Shaper programs and kicking off the year with two fantastic leadership development experiences…the list goes on.

We welcome Spring, a season of renewal, where the seeds we planted months ago begin to bloom and sprout. And with this growth comes change. It is both exciting and bittersweet to share that Sophie Katzman, our Program Manager, will be leaving NSTI.

Over the past two years, we have been blessed to have Sophie share her passions for social justice and youth engagement with our community, and helped our community to grow in new and exciting ways. Sophie has accepted a position with Teach For America, and will be wrapping-up her time with us shortly. She is excited to take what she’s learned with her as she transitions to being an elementary school teacher in southern Massachusetts.

Please join us in thanking Sophie for her dedication and commitment to NSTI, and wishing her the best as she begins her next chapter. Join us on April 23 at J-Serve, where we will take an opportunity to help strengthen our community and honor Sophie.

While we say l’hita’ot (see you later) to Sophie, we are also excited about all that lies ahead for NSTI as we continue to strengthen the relationships we have with our community partners. We are currently exploring many collaborative opportunities – if you know of anyone is interested in helping us change what youth engagement looks like for the Greater Boston Jewish community, please send them our way!

Chag Pesach Sameach – wishing everyone a sweet and happy Passover. Looking forward to seeing you on April 23!

– Adam, Brett, Sarah and the NSTI Team

Happy Passover

Happy Passover

#ChagPesachSameach! Wishing our fam & friends a happy and sweet #Passover! Check out @jewishboston & @heybimbam for plenty of ways to spice up your Seder…now bring on the matzah & don’t forget to recline!

Guest Article

Guest Article

Jewish Teen Fellowship in Metrowest Region

Applications Now Being Accepted

By Leigh Blander

An innovative and first-of-its-kind peer leadership program for Jewish teenagers is expanding to the Metrowest region, with the goal of keeping more teens engaged in Jewish life through personal networks and one-to-one connections. Limited spaces are available for this unique Fellowship and applications are being accepted now.

The Peer Leadership Fellows program trains Jewish high school students (in grades 10-11) to connect and engage with other teens. The PLF program is based on a successful model created by Hillel International, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world.

Hillel has mobilized college peer interns to professionalize its campus outreach, strengthen student connections, and boost participation. Hillel is partnering with PLF to bring its successful approach to high schoolers for the first time.

“I’m thrilled to be working alongside thoughtful leaders to bring this pilot into the teen space, to expand our reach, and find new pathways to connect with more and more Jewish teens,” said Adam Smith, Executive Director of Jewish Teen Initiative, which oversees the PLF program.

“We want the teens to be our community connectors—reaching out to their marginally- or under-involved peers, building those relationships and connecting them to opportunities which relate to their interests,” said Brett Lubarsky, Associate Director of Jewish Teen Initiative.

The PLF program launched last year on the North Shore, where it has been successful and is gaining momentum nationally, with three other cities looking to adapt the model. The original 14 Fellows say they feel very invested.

“It’s important for us to connect and be the voice of the future,” said Jacob Abisso, a junior at Gann Academy in Waltham. “It has been awesome to be part of something so big and to feel momentum build.”

The Fellows receive a $500 stipend, along with professional training in leadership, communication, and community organizing.

The Fellows have a diverse menu of events and programs to share with their peers. This spring, for example, they can participate at the Brandeis Design Lab where Jewish teens work together to find creative, design, and building skills to solve real problems facing the Jewish community and the world.

Also available—national service and leadership trips to New York City, Washington, D.C., North Carolina and beyond.

Applications for the Peer Leadership Fellows program in Metrowest are being accepted now. To learn more and to apply, visit nsteeninitiative.org/programs/fellowship, email Brett Lubarsky or call 508-399-1836.

bullet point  Leigh Blander, is a freelance journalist and a North Shore Teen Initiative community partner.

Cross-posted at JewishBoston.com

Brandeis Design Lab

Brandeis Design Lab

#BrandeisDesignLab is coming to #MetrowestBoston next month for teens in grades 8-12! Turn your passions into action, get creative & help make our community more welcoming, inclusive & accessible for all! ⚙️ Powered by NSTI and Brandeis Precollege Programs, with support from CJP – Combined Jewish Philanthropies. Learn more & register today >>

Peer Leadership Reflections

Peer Leadership Reflections

In Their Own Words

Read what Jacob & Daniel have to say, in their own words, about reaching out and connecting with peers through their Sloane Peer Leader Fellowships (North Shore Cohort 1).

Jacob Abbisso, Gann Academy, Class of 2018:

photo What was the most surprising aspect of your work as a Sloane Peer Leadership Fellow? I learned that leadership requires a very complex set of skills. The prerequisite for any type of leadership is passion. It is only possible to spark an interest in others if that flame burns brightly within yourself.

What have you learned about your Jewish community through this experience? There are many other passionate teens from all over the North Shore (and beyond!) who are committed to Tikkun Olam. It is important for us to connect and be the voice of the future. People want to be active, but need a pathway in. For teens especially, it can be difficult to find others who want to change the world instead of retreating into their own. It has been awesome to be a part of something so big and to feel momentum build.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your work as a Sloane Peer Leadership Fellow? The most challenging aspect is taking risks to engage people I don’t know very well in a way that makes them feel comfortable and respects their individual expressions of faith. It’s also a challenge to pique the interest of someone who isn’t a “practicing” Jew. We all observe in different ways, but we have a thread that binds us.

What else should we know about your experience as a fellow? My experience as a fellow is both gratifying and empowering! I feel something much larger than myself. I’m passionate about Judaism and Tikkun Olam, and couldn’t be true to myself if I were trying to get people involved in something I didn’t believe in.

Daniel Kasten, St. Johns Prep, Class of 2019:

photo What motivated you to apply for the Fellowship? I knew being selected as a Sloane Peer Leadership Fellow would enable me to be more involved and have a broader impact on Jewish teens in my community.

What have you learned about peer engagement through this experience? I have found that teens enjoy spending time with their peers, they are motivated to volunteer and make a difference in the community by helping those in need, and enjoy broadening their social and religious identity. Many teens in our community are involved in Jewish overnight camps and I believe we can leverage these relationships and outreach during the school year to ensure that these connections remain strong outside of camp.

How has the Fellowship impacted your life? After being trained by a representative of Hillel International, I have learned the value of communication and the importance of actively listening to my peers. This is vital in helping to create programming that would target the interests and needs of specifc groups. More importantly, this opportunity has given me insight as I prepare to transition toward college and look forward to seeking out Jewish community groups to support on campus.

Teen Article

Teen Article

Learning & Leading

By Mae-Lou Zaleski, Danvers HS, 2018

For the past seven months, myself and fourteen other NSTI Sloane Peer Leadership Fellows have been working to increase involvement of Jewish teens in the North Shore and beyond. This fellowship has taught us the importance of being actively Jewish and how much fun it can be. Most specifically, we have learned why our work is critical for the future and growth of Judaism. Although we have all had our successes within increasing involvement of teens in the Jewish community, there have been many challenges faced. During our first seminar, we were informed that involvement of teens in the Jewish community significantly decreases post Bar/Bat Mitzvah for a variety of reasons: an absence of desire to be active in the Jewish community, loss of faith, and/or lack of education about the plethora of opportunities the Jewish community can provide for teens all over the world.

Initially, it was a challenge to think of ways we could influence our peers to become active the community, and soon discovered we could not simply get people to join through promising that “Judaism is fun!” We discovered education was the strongest tool we have and utilize it in every conversation we have in order to overcome every challenge we face. We educate our peers on why it is important to be part of the Jewish community, what different organizations and activities they can get involved with, how accepting the Jewish community is to everyone, how much fun feeling and being accepted into a diverse community, and much more.

Through the fellowship, I have discovered a new side of the Jewish community. Aside from going to temple twice a week growing up, I didn’t have any exposure to the Jewish community outside of my microscopic Hebrew school class and weekly services. I was not aware that attending temple is not the only way to be an active member of the Jewish community, unlike what I assumed. I have discovered many other teens had this perception of involvement in the community as well. I am surrounding myself with a diverse Jewish community from children to adults. I found a welcoming and heartwarming community that will accept me for who I am solely due to the fact I am proud to be Jewish. Although we share the major trait of being Jewish, it is a diverse community of different races, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, individual morals, and activity in the Jewish community. I discovered a vibrant and accepting community that will welcome anyone with arms wide open.

My “fellow fellows” and I learned that our similarity of being actively and proud to be Jewish can lead to stable, fulfilling, and trusting friendships. Through this fellowship, I’ve created a newfound siblinghood through the Jewish community I continue to grow and surround myself with, and love every part of it.

Although the main goal of the fellowship is increasing other teen’s activity in the Jewish community for our peers, it has greatly increased my activity as well as my love for being Jewish. I’m able to relate to other inactive teens because after my Bat Mitzvah, I as well was ready to stop my activity in the Jewish community completely. However, after a teen trip to Israel, I found a newfound passion to be an active member of the Jewish community and was inspired to get others involved. I realized how much fun it is and how much I love creating new relationships with other Jewish teens.

Through my newfound activeness in the Jewish community and journey as a fellow, I have rediscovered why being Jewish is an important part of who I am. I learned at the end of the day what we believe as individuals connects us more than physical similarities ever could. I am endlessly grateful for the experiences and education I have received over the past seven months, and am proud to call myself an NSTI Sloane Peer Leadership Fellow.

bullet point  Mae-Lou was a 2016-17 North Shore Cohort 1 Peer Leadership Fellow.

Teen Article

Teen Article

Leadership Award Brings Reflection

By Ariella Nardizzi, Swampscott HS, 2017

From the moment I learned of the Derek Sheckman Leadership Award two years ago, and the values it represents, I knew that this honor was something I would strive to achieve. After reading “Derek’s Journal” in my junior year health class at Swampscott High School, this motivation within me only grew stronger. I have always been enthusiastic about giving back to my community, and I realized that this award could help me further my community service experience, as well as do so much more.

In 1996, 16-year-old Derek Sheckman was one of two recipients of the North Shore Jewish community’s first Teen Leadership Award. In 1998, after Derek’s untimely death, the Jewish Federation of the North Shore decided to honor his memory by changing the name of the award to the Derek M. Sheckman Teen Leadership Award; today, North Shore Teen Initiative oversees the Award.

After being named one of the three recipients for the 2016 award, I decided I would work with Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that builds homes all over the globe on their Lynn, Massachusetts, site. The months leading up to the physical work were surprisingly almost more difficult than the actual hands-on work. I found that being a teenager, it was difficult to communicate with adults in a way where I was taken seriously, or seen as an equal rather than a child. Constant back-and-forth emails, phone calls, and research made me realize how persistent one must be to form concepts into reality. Nevertheless, I managed to recruit volunteers and over five consecutive Saturdays in the fall, I devoted my time and energy with my peers to work.

This project was a huge challenge, both mentally and physically. Working around skilled grown men and learning how to use power tools was intimidating at first, and heavy lifting all day left me very sore. However, as the weeks went by, both my strength and knowledge of the site expanded greatly. The skills that I acquired came from experience and hands-on learning only; it was unlike anything I’ve ever done, but has provided me with a lot of new abilities that I wouldn’t have learned if not for this project.

When I first began on site, the crew had laid the cement and had built the first floor of the house. We began by lifting the framework of the second floor, giving the house a whole new look. As the days progressed, so did the house. By the end of my five weeks, the one-story “box” that I had first seen on October 8 had evolved greatly; there were now stairs, a porch, four walls on the second floor, and a roof. It was amazing to experience the building of this house because it blew my mind how much people can accomplish together, with only their hands and other basic tools, in such a short month.

While this project originally began to honor my award, I gained a lot of insight by working with Habitat. For one, the camaraderie that developed from working on a tough, physical task was moving – we created a team of skilled and semi-skilled volunteers, ranging from young teenagers to older adults; the teamwork involved in building this house made my experience all the better. Second, I felt that this project strengthened my leadership abilities because of my work on organizing and recruiting volunteers, as well as helping to lead groups on the construction site. Finally, it is incredible knowing that I, a high school student, helped build a home that a family will live in. I had the opportunity to meet the family that was chosen for this house in Lynn, and it reinforced how important it is to help those in need. While traveling to third-world countries to help is a wonderful experience, helping at home is just as rewarding. I am so grateful for this opportunity, and know that this honor has changed my life, and my perspective, for the better.

bullet point  Ariella was a 2016 Derek Sheckman Leadership Award Recipient.

Cross-posted at Jewish Journal.

Staff Article

Staff Article

Teens Grow Through Giving at NSTI


Between school work, college planning, sports, “extracurriculars” and managing a social life – high school students are busy. Still, a group of 14 teenagers makes time for “L’Shaper” each Tuesday evening to put smiles on the faces of kids living at a shelter in Lynn. The Independence House, part of the Lynn Shelter Association (LSA), serves 32 families.

“I think it is very important for the teens to see how other people live and to understand how they ended up in a family shelter and what is shelter life,” said Independence House Case Manager Josette Patterson Frazier.

L’Shaper, which means “to improve” in Hebrew, is a core example of the North Shore Teen Initiative’s (NSTI) commitment to engage teens in meaningful and authentic service programming while working together with community partners. Launched in 2012, this program is a collaboration between NSTI, Temple Sinai and the Jewish Community Center of Marblehead. Before this year’s partnership with the Independence House, L’Shaper teens worked in school systems in Lynn and Revere, offering homework help and enrichment games to children whose parents were taking ESL classes at night.

Last year, LSA expressed a need for teen volunteers and NSTI stepped in to help. “NSTI members are wonderful role models for our young adults who provide a positive influence on children experiencing homelessness,” said former LSA Director of Development, Elaine Miller. “It is an excellent example of giving back, while learning more about social issues that create homelessness and the struggles of our families.”

NSTI welcomes teens grades nine through twelve from all over the North Shore. “Our tradition says the world stands on three things: Torah (Study), Avodah (Service) and Gemilut Hasadim (Acts of loving-kindness),” said Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez of Temple Sinai, who leads the students in short text study over pizza before they volunteer.

“It’s been a beautiful experience to sit with these young men and women and learn together before they head up to do their inspiring work with those in need. Those who participate in L’Shaper help the world continue standing and make it a better place for all of us,” Cohen-Henriquez added.

The teens go to the shelter each week, they laugh and play games like Apples to Apples, Headbands, Jenga and more, as if the children were their own younger brothers and sisters. As is so often the case with volunteer work, the L’Shaper teens say the program has changed their lives. For Halle Merkowitz, a sophomore at Minuteman Regional High School, the service work builds on her high school work, where she is studying early childhood education.

“I really enjoy playing with both the children at the shelter and my fellow peers,” Merkowitz said. “It’s a great experience overall. It really is a mitzvah.”

For others, like Korey Cohan, a junior at Marblehead High School, the Jewish component is key. “L’Shaper is very important to me. As a proud Jew, I value the importance of Torah, “Cohan said. “Judaism is a loving religion, which centers around helping those in need and spreading love and kindness, so it is my responsibility to do good deeds and help others. When I go and assist families in their time of need, I am fulfilling part of my duty, and showing God I am thankful for all that I have been given in my life.”

And shelter families appreciate what the teens bring. “It’s so good to see a smile on my son’s face, laughing and playing games on the floor with a couple of the teens each week,” said one shelter parent.

It’s hard for the teens to leave each week, as the kids beg them to play just one more game. The volunteers always leave with smiles on their faces and an excitement about returning the following week. This volunteer program is just one part of a larger network of service opportunities which NSTI facilitates in conjunction with community partners throughout the North Shore.

bullet point  Sophie Katzman, who writes for the Journal, is Program Manager at the North Shore Teen Initiative.

Cross-posted at Jewish Journal