Tel is the Hebrew word for an archeological hill, and JRF is using the word as an acronym for Teens: Experience and Learning. JRF seeks to create a true tel experience for our teens based on the opportunity to dig through first-hand “life-centered” experiences and sift out new, meaningful educational gleanings that are personally relevant to their lives.
The TEL program was created in response to the need expressed by Reconstructionist Education Directors for effective post b’nai mitzvah programming. All JRF congregations and havurot are welcome to participate if they can put together a “team” of youth willing to try out the program. As with most teen programs, developing a critical mass is key to making this program work in each community. We encourage JRF congregations that are close to one another to explore combining youth to help develop critical masses. The 2009-2010 year was geared towards eighth and ninth graders, with tenth graders joining for 2010-2011, and eleventh the following year.
This program is framed and anchored by two kallot (retreats). The first takes place in the fall and the second in the spring. They are similar to the successful No’ar Hadash kallot, and suitable for those who have and have not participated in those programs. Eighth, ninth, and tenth grade Reconstructionists across the continent will be able and encouraged to stay connected to one another throughout the year with a TEL listserv.
In between the kallot, JRF provides content for at least eight two hour havayot (experiential learning opportunities) to be implemented in each community. These are based on the effective havayah model of Camp JRF. Some congregations and havurot supplement the eight TEL havayot with more frequent programming (such as bi-weekly or even weekly gatherings). JRF is happy to work with congregations to maximize the effectiveness of this option and to connect congregations and havurot with the same structure.
Each community hires a madrih/a (educator/counselor) to help staff the kallot and teach the curriculum at home in the congregation. JRF will provide support in identifying madrihim (educators/counselors) wherever possible and will provide ongoing training and support to these people. JRF’s TEL staff also consciously empowers the teens to guide their own TEL group experiences, as well as to help shape the evolving future of the TEL program itself.
The havayot will generally be structured according to the following arc: two sessions actively learning about the topic or value in greater depth, two preparing for activities related to that value that the eighth and ninth graders develop (on their own or from a menu created by the curriculum writer, the madrih/a and the education director), two sessions devoted to doing the activity or action, one planning how to share their experience with their larger community and the final session creatively communicating their experiences to their community.
Each year the TEL Program focuses on one of the Values of Spiritual Peoplehood, which are cornerstones of Reconstructionist Jewish education. Examples that particularly resonate with teens include Tikkun Olam (social justice), which was the theme for 2009-2010, and Dereh Eretz (which we use in this context to mean character).
The 2010-2011 year’s theme is Hiddur Mitzvah (Creativity). Jewish living has always been enhanced by creative expression, beginning with the beautification of ritual objects. In the Hiddur Mitzvah year of the TEL program, teens are exploring how Jewish creativity - understood in the broadest sense - has been a tool for exploring and expressing Jewish identity. The havayot bring teens into relationship with Jewish comedy & humor, film & theater, literature, visual arts, and music. Teens will experience for themselves how each of these aspects of Jewish creativity has been and can be used for explorations of and expressions of Jewish identity. Each TEL group will create a Hiddur Mitzvah project (or projects!) that is (are) compelling to the teens. The projects may involve directly designing or producing a creative work, organizing a fundraiser in support of a Jewish arts organization, holding a book drive for your congregation... the possibilities are as limitless as the TEL teens’ imaginations!
At the spring kallah, the TEL teens are reunited with old friends in person and have the opportunity to share the learning they did over the course of the year. They will then be able to deepen their social relationships and learning with another layer of culminating experiences and activities.
Congregations interested in learning more about the TEL program should call or e-mail Rabbi Erin Hirsh, JRF Director of Education at 215-885-5601 extension 16.
The JRF is grateful to the Schocken Foundation for funding the TEL program.