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Youth Group is back

Student leadership spurs many activities

When an inspiring teacher and excited students work together, fun times happen. Religious School assistant principal Natalie Weizman loved her synagogue youth group in Santa Cruz. William Geist, a 12th grader and other high school and middle school students enjoy getting together. They’ve now established a formal youth group at Sherith Israel.

Principal and interim executive director Nancy Sheftel-Gomes included leading the youth group in the job description for assistant principal for which Natalie was hired. “Jewish education is taking a much more informal route in many ways,” Nancy explains. A youth group helps students bond, since they come from so many secular schools. “The connections our students make translate both into friendships and a more active, engaged approach to their Jewish studies at Sherith Israel.”

Natalie and fifteen students met last September to formalize the group and elect officers: president, William Geist; programming VP, Asher Etlin; social action VP, Elizabeth Flaherman; religious and cultural VP, Abraham Baldonado; membership VP, Adam Schwartz; communications VP, Shoshanna Alessi; financial VP, Joshua Kerzhner. They divided the youth group into three components: Sherith Israel Camp (SIC), grades 2–4; Sherith Israel Middle Schoolers (SIMS), grades 5–7; and Sherith Israel Temple Youth (SITY), grades 8–12. The three groups enjoy separate activities and sometimes come together.

“Of course, Natalie plays a major role in all this,” Nancy adds. “But the older students have taken ownership and provided real leadership by planning and staffing events. This creates a wonderful learning and social environment.”

The youth group has enjoyed several activities. They include bowling (grades 2–4) and rock climbing (grades 5–7). SITY (grades 8–12) planned last autumn’s Sukkot party and overnighted at Sherith Israel with kids from Marin’s Congregation Rodef Shalom. During an elective day, grades 2–5 enjoyed extra time with religious school art and music specialists Ana Dillman and Lior Ben-Hur.

Grades 2–7 plan to soar on the trampolines in the Presidio’s House of Air. Two more elective days this winter and spring will offer a Purim carnival, social justice fair, two additional overnights, including one for seventh graders, and an all-school overnight at year’s end. Grades 8–12 plan a trip to Los Angeles at the end of March. Students will stay in the historically Jewish Fairfax neighborhood, where they’ll celebrate Shabbat. They’ll also meet an LA youth group and steep themselves in Jewish learning with visits to the Museum of Tolerance, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and the Skirball Cultural Center. They’ll also visit the Getty Center and, at eighth-grader Emmy Etlin’s suggestion, Harry Potter World.

In July, CSI teens will join teens from Calvary Presbyterian Church for a Heifer International trip to Perryville, Arkansas. They’ll learn about agricultural changes that can end hunger and poverty for many people around the world. CSI participated in a similar trip in 2014.

“There’s a lot of energy in this group,” says Nancy. Adds Natalie, “Our students are doing great things, getting to know each other better, sharing wonderful experiences and taking on leadership responsibilities to grow as individuals and set an example for younger kids.”

Thu, May 24 2018 10 Sivan 5778