Our Stories

Be the campfire for our teens

When I accepted the position of CEO at Jewish LearningWorks, I was motivated by optimism about the future of our work, elevating the art of Jewish teaching and the practice of Jewish learning. In spite of this historical moment, I continue to be driven by that optimism. Though none of us can know what is on the other side of the pandemic, I believe that our involvement in communities, and our commitment to living our Jewish values, will only feel more essential.

In addition to being a longtime Jewish educator, I am the parent of four teens. As a result of the public health crisis, our children are living with limited access to their critical friendship networks, and just last week learned that overnight Jewish summer camps – something many look forward to all year, is not to be this summer. Disappointed and fearful, they are facing unanswerable questions about their future. And they are leaning on their youth advisors and other Jewish professional leaders to support them.

Even during this crisis, Jewish LearningWorks is at the forefront of supporting and training youth professionals – including weekly virtual gatherings with school directors, youth advisors, clergy and social service professionals. In the year-to-come, as we all find a “new normal” we will deepen our commitment to providing vital training on social emotional learning and developing resilience in children and teens. We know that these topics are more relevant today than ever. 

Prior to the pandemic, I regularly encountered new research on the increasing difficulties of adolescence. Whether they are experiencing academic stress, witnessing gun violence in schools, or grappling with rising Anti-Semitism, children and teens feel the weight of the world in which we live, and they deeply need the guidance of trusted parents, teachers and role models. Local teen educator Annie Fox speaks about the opportunity the Jewish community has “to be the campfire” for our children, providing the light and warmth required for them to grow. Both today, and on the other side of COVID-19 our teens will rely on their congregations, schools, JCCs and leadership programs to be places where they can find comfort and reassurance, wrestle with difficult and sometimes scary events, and clarify their values as we all adjust to a new reality.

As I become CEO, I am proud that our coaching, networking, skill building and leadership development programs support hundreds of professionals each year. This work continues virtually and we recently received the following note from a JCC teen professional, who is temporarily furloughed from her position:

“I want to express my gratitude for all the programs and professional development opportunities you have offered. It’s been such a pleasure getting to know you and the personal touch you put on all the programs. I have connected with so many other Jewish educators and learned so much through Jewish LearningWorks this year.”

We are grateful for the role you play in helping to be that campfire our teens need. Wishing you health and well-being in the coming months.

Kol tuv, 

Dana Sheanin
Chief Strategy Officer and Incoming CEO, Jewish LearningWorks