We Listen and Learn from You by Sam Swire, Director of Youth Engagement

This past weekend I had the privilege of helping to staff our 10th graders’ annual Confirmation Trip. While most would shy away from accompanying 26 teenagers to Charleston for a bonding experience, it was exactly what Rabbi Klass, Rebecca Ferry, and I wanted to do.

Being the third time running this trip we had a good gauge over what to expect and worked out a lot of the potential risks, updating the schedule each year to better prepare and offer the best experience possible. With all of our planning and previous experience, there are always things we cannot control; to quote an old Yiddish saying “Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” which means “Man Plans, and God Laughs,” and God had a bit of a chuckle a few minutes into our trip when we discovered that the bathroom on our bus was not functional. With regard to crises, this is definitely one that is low on the list, but it did mean that we had to be a bit more thoughtful and communicative with the group.

In most cases the changes that this minor obstacle forced was giving extra reminders to use the bathrooms whenever we left a building, or it meant having a conversation with the teens during the bus ride to make sure that everyone of the teens was comfortable and had a say in if we would go to the rest stop 15 minutes into our journey home, or the stop a bit under 2 hours away.  We, as the adult leaders could have unilaterally decided where and when we would stop, but we knew that by giving some of the ownership of this issue to the teens to help us craft the solutions it would be a better experience for everyone: because it involved them, we knew we needed to listen.

You may have seen the word “listen” popping up a lot at TBE in recent months, and I don’t just mean at every t’filah service when we say the Shema.  Similarly to how Rabbi Klass, Rebecca and I brought the Confirmation Class into the conversation and listened to ensure they were comfortable, TBE staff and clergy have been working on listening campaigns to help us understand what our congregants are connecting to and looking for in our programming.  Specifically, I have been spearheading the Youth Listening Campaign for parents and alumni of Jewish youth programs.

I am using the situation with the bus to show why teamwork and listening helps when solving a problem or assessing successes. Listening campaigns are created to foster connections and share insight to establish shared community values. The listening that occurs is both as individuals listening to each other and with TBE as an institution listening to those conversations to determine what values we should use to build our youth program on for the future. The truth is, we do not know what shared values and experiences will come out of listening campaigns, but we do know that through the listening and the shared connections established, we will have an understanding that will guide us to a values based Youth Program that is better able to meet our families’ needs.

In being as transparent as possible, we are now arriving at the point in the blog with the ask:  Just like we needed teen input to manage our rest stops, we need your input as involved congregants who care about our Youth Program to help us understand where you come from by attending any of our available listening sessions. There are a variety of options so that you can choose a convenient time to share with us your stories and experiences. Each session is 90 minutes and all you need to bring is a willingness to share your stories. You can sign up here. I hope to see you at one of our sessions, and thanks for always listening!