CAJE to unveil new teen JOLT program

BY VICTORIA SIEGEL, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Teenagers who want to supplement their Jewish education by attending classes outside of their high schools are in for a J O L T … as in Jewish Opportunities and Learning for Teens.

The school, formerly known as “Hebrew High” or the Jewish Community High School, has undergone a makeover in name, leadership, and content. “One of our goals is to make the program more pluralistic. We want students from all denominations and we want to build an opportunity for Jewish teens to be together in a fun and social learning environment,” said Maxine Weil, the new educational director of JOLT.

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In order to meet that goal, Weil said she is recruiting teachers from throughout the community.

Another change includes restructuring the calendar. Hebrew High had two semesters each year, but JOLT will have three eight-week trimesters as well as offer four-week mini-courses. And a dinner option has been added for teens who are coming straight from another activity or who want to come early and visit with friends.

This school, which has been in existence for well over 20 years, is a project of Central Agency for Jewish Education (CAJE), a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation. Throughout its history it has held its classes in synagogues around the area such as United Hebrew Congregation, Temple Israel and Congregation B’nai Amoona. Currently, the school’s courses are held at Congregation B’nai Amoona.

“This is a community program so we have a mix of kids that students wouldn’t normally see at their own high schools or religious schools,” said Rabbi Ari Vernon, who directed Hebrew High. “A typical student has generally been someone who is strongly committed to Judaism and a Jewish identity. And we offer something different from congregational schools so it has an appeal.”

In fact, decisions on what courses to offer are being determined by student feedback and surveys. “The school becomes relevant to teenagers when we get their input,” Weil said. “So we’ve been meeting with teens, school directors and rabbis to come up with ideas.”

Favorite courses with the teens are Jews in the news (taught by Robert A. Cohn, editor-in-chief emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light), Midrashim, music, Jewish cooking, and classes taught by rabbis. New courses include Jewish journalism (in conjunction with an upcoming, new teen section in the Jewish Light), comparative Judaism where teens will explore the similarities and differences between the various denominations, and teacher-in-training classes for teens who serve as assistant teachers throughout Jewish religious organizations in the community.

“The educational component has to be sophisticated because these teens are really intelligent and the Jewish aspect of their education has to be brought up to the next level,” Weil said. Sonia Dobinsky, executive director of CAJE, would like to see teens from all affiliations attend, as well as have a wide variety of teachers.

The make-over is part of CAJE’s strategic plan to offer courses, whether for adults or teens, that are pluralistic in nature. “We are a community organization and can do things that others cannot,” Dobinsky said. “A congregation can do things that are more specific in its focus. We support these organizations but we can offer things that are from a broader spectrum.”

Weil said that every bit of involvement that a teen has in Jewish life adds to the likelihood they’ll continue to be involved in Jewish life as adults. According to Jonathan Woocher, Ph.D., chief ideas officer and director of the Lippman Kanfer Institute at Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA), statistically, on average, the more Jewish education a person has, especially through the teenage years, the more chance he or she has of having a Jewish identity as an adult.

“There is a clear and consistent correlation of the more Jewish education a teenager has, whether it’s Israel travel, going to Jewish summer camps, participating in youth groups or attending Jewish high school, it all has a positive affect on Jewish identity as an adult,” Woocher said.

Classes are held on Thursday evenings, beginning Sept. 4. The school offers two one-hour classes each Thursday, starting at 6:30 p.m. The cost is $125 per trimester.

On Sunday, Aug. 17, JOLT is holding a kick-off and registration event, 2-4 p.m. at Olivette Lanes, 9520 Olive Blvd.

Teens can bowl and enjoy refreshments for free, learn about JOLT’s fall classes, catch up with friends they haven’t seen during the summer, and select and register for courses.

For more information about the school, contact Maxine Weil at 314-442-3757 or [email protected]

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