by Annette van de Kamp-Wright
Editor of the Jewish Press

On Monday June 9, Courtney Bierman, the Jewish Press summer intern, joined us for her first day. She introduces herself to you on the next page, and I recommend you check out what she has to say.

I am incredibly grateful to Sharee and Murray Newman, who through their Supporting Foundation each year give us the opportunity to bring in a fresh voice for the duration of the summer. This time, however, we’re hoping the summer voice will turn into something more: we’d like to increase the presence of Omaha Jewish teens in our paper permanently. And we can’t do that by simply writing about them. They need to speak for themselves.

I think I remember what I was like when I was 16, but the truth is: I don’t. I’m only in my forties, and already too much time has passed, and too many things have happened. If I want to include stories in our paper that are interesting and relevant for teenage readers, teenage writers must generate those stories. And: the idea that, in the near future, teens will have a reason to pick up the Jewish Press and find something that represents them is very attractive. The Jewish Press belongs to all of us, and no matter your age, you should find yourself in these pages.
When young people, regardless of their age, do something for themselves, it is much more powerful an experience than when their elders do it for them. That is true from the moment they can tie their own shoes. When this past year’s sixth graders graduated from Friedel Jewish Academy, they presented principal Pam Cohn with a check. During the school year, they had raised money, on their own, so they could leave the school with a goodbye present. They came up with the idea without parents telling them to, and they executed it independently, including committee meetings on the playground. It’s meaningful, not just because of the real dollars they raised, but because of the initiative and ownership.

At the age of 12, they made it clear to the rest of us: they are our future leaders. Who knows what they will do by the time they are in middle and high school? By themselves, without interference from us?

Yet, we still don’t get it. A 2013 study offered tips, according to Gil Shefler of JTA. The Jim Joseph Foundation commissioned two consulting firms to carry out a two-year study to figure out how to engage Jewish teens.

“Trying to interest teenagers in activities is difficult,” he  writes, “parents and teachers know well, especially given what technology has done to the attention spans of young people.”
To be honest, I am not sure what “technology has done to the attention spans of young people,” because Shefler does not include any specific research. Sure, younger people are usually more tech savvy. That does not mean they can’t be engaged and involved. And I know a certain rabbi who tweets constantly and yet no one would accuse him of having a short attention span.
The article continues with the short-but-sweet conclusion of the study:

“Hire good staff, be flexible on attendance and target teens through social media. As a teen might say, Duh!”
Does Shefler think all teens say “duh” a lot? I think if he bothered to listen, he would be surprised at what he would hear.
When teenagers are not involved, that can cause real problems, and you will never hear me say otherwise. But until we step aside, and invite the teens themselves to become part of the solution, nothing will change.

And so I’ve charged Courtney with putting together a task force of young, enthusiastic writers from all corners of our Jewish community, and figure out how to make this happen. It’s exciting, and it’s time. I know there are many young people in our community who are ready to speak out, about a variety of issues that move them. I know they care, I know they are passionate, and I know they can write. I, for one, can’t wait to hear what they have to say.

If you are between the ages of 12 and 18, and you are interested in being a part of this, you can contact Courtney at cbierman@jewishomaha.org or call her at 402.334.6451.