A minyan of teens

April 13, 2018 by Community newsdesk
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Sydney’s North Shore Temple Emanuel (NSTE) clergy were joined by 10 post b’nei mitzvah teenagers in leading the morning shacharit service for the congregation.

The teens are part of the shul’s new “Teen Torah Tag Team”, formed in 2017 by Senior Rabbi Nicole Roberts. Saturday marked the second time since inception that a full minyan of ten teens from the Tag Team has come together to lead prayer and leyn Torah.

At the shul’s Tag Team services, held approximately every six weeks, participating teenagers take responsibility for leyning the entire morning Torah reading. In addition to leyning, the teens also chant the Haftarah, lead other blessings throughout the service, are called to the Torah as a group for the maftir aliyah, and enjoy a special Mi Shebeirach blessing as a group. At one service, a teen even delivered the d’rash, sharing her recent Israel Study Tour (IST) experience visiting Poland and Israel.

At the conclusion of the service, the Tag Team and congregation are treated to a special ice cream and chocolate kiddush.

With a large cohort of 27 b’nei mitzvah students in 2017, the Tag Team was established as ‘the next frontier’ in our students’ Jewish journey, with the aim of keeping teenagers interested and engaged in congregational life following their ‘big day.’

“In previous years, teens were specially invited back, individually, one year following bar or bat mitzvah to reprise their maftir reading. But by then their enthusiasm had waned, they felt rusty on their skills, and they feared being the only teenager in shul that day,” observes Rabbi Roberts.

“Most didn’t take us up on the offer, and sometimes they didn’t even have the option because someone else was celebrating bar or bat mitzvah that day and the maftir reading was not available.”

Then Rabbi Roberts recalled a feedback session once held with parents and teens, when one parent suggested that the kids might enjoy coming as a group with their friends to all leyn together on the same day.

“I thought that was a lovely idea worth trying,” says Rabbi Roberts. “You have to channel the kids’ enthusiasm when it’s still hot following their bar or bat mitzvah celebration, because there are so many other pulls on their attention and time when they are in high school. We don’t want the bar or bat mitzvah ceremony to be the end of a student’s engagement in the community. We want it to be a gateway to a lifetime of meaningful involvements.”

Immediately following their bar or bat mitzvah ceremony, students become eligible to participate in the next upcoming Tag Team service. Some prefer to start gradually, reciting blessings they learned for their bar or bat mitzvah ceremony, rather than leyning Torah. Others are eager to dive right in!

To encourage participation on the Tag Team, Rabbi Roberts often invites Tag Team teens to share “words of the wise” (words of encouragement about b’nei mitzvah or joining the Tag Team) with current b’nei mitzvah students, who are all encouraged to attend the Tag Team services. In addition, soon each bar and bat mitzvah student will receive the gift of a yad from the congregation at their ceremony, which they are then invited to bring along and use when they leyn in a Tag Team service.

Tag Team teens also engage in other activities throughout the year, including NSTE’s annual teen-led Yom Kippur Afternoon service and social opportunities, such as their recent Pre-Pesach Pizza Party.

To find out more about the Teen Torah Tag Team or NSTE’s b’nei mitzvah program, visit www.nste.org.au/teens or www.nste.org.au/bnei-mitzvah-program. Alternatively, you can call the office on 9419 7011.

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