In preparation for the Campaign for Youth Engagement’s launch at Biennial 2011, over 1,000 teens, educators, rabbis, youth workers, cantors, administrators, and lay leaders were involved in grassroots conversations about what engages teens and what does not. One theme clearly stood out: building meaningful relationships and a dynamic and engaged Jewish community is essential for youth and their families to commit to Jewish life.

Rabbi Rachel Ackerman, posted on Facebook about an experience at her congregation that exemplifies the value of meaningful relationships and community. Rabbi Ackerman described the Temple Shalom teen community’s remarkable reaction to the tragic loss of a parent suffered by two of their peers.

“I went to lead a shiva minyan (service in the home of someone who died in the days following the funeral) of the mother of one of our Temple students and one of our graduated students. In the process, there were several experiences that blew me away:

  1. Between the funeral and the two shiva minyanim so far, people were lined up out the door and it was standing room only.
  2. In the past two days, at least half, if not more, of the student’s Confirmation (10th grade) class have shown up, and almost all of the families have been represented by parents of the Confirmation class. Additionally, four clergy from two synagogues and at least five of our school’s teachers have been present.
  3. I had no voice last night, so a Confirmation student led the service with me and did a remarkable job. The same student also suggested to his classmates over a weekend trip in New York that one way they could be supportive to the family was by participating in these services since they are old enough to “count” as part of the minyan. How unbelievable to have teens really step up like that!
  4. The assistant director from the Union for Reform Judaism Camp where the daughter went to camp two years ago came. Does it get more supportive than that?

I am feeling incredibly blessed to be part of such a phenomenal community, incredibly proud of our teens and the adults they are becoming, and incredibly in awe of our movement’s camping system.”

Through camps and congregations, when Jewish communities nurture the development of deep relationships, a web of support is cultivated. That web allows for help celebrating simchas and solace during times of grief. The loss suffered by the children Rabbi Ackerman writes about is unthinkable; the community’s embrace for these children is, in Rabbi Ackerman’s own words, incredible.

Rabbi Rachel Ackerman is Director of Education at Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah, a daily e-mail on a topic of Jewish interest. Sign up now to add 10 minutes of Jewish learning to your life each day!