Our Stories

What makes up “Jewish identity,” and what role does fear and our own strengths have to do with it?

By Alisah Pedowitz, Jewish LearningWorks’ Senior Educator

On Friday, March 22, 2024, 13 educators who work with adolescents gathered with Jewish LearningWorks and Dr. Betsy Stone for a morning of learning around these very topics. As it was just ahead of Purim, we began by recalling the moment in the Megillah that Mordecai tells Esther, “you were made for a moment such as this” — a reminder to Esther both of her responsibility and her own power, in order for her to draw from both and rise to the call of saving her people. We each reflected on our own moments where we recognized both our responsibility and power and rose to meet the moment. It was powerful to not only hear of the individual acts of power, strength, courage — but to look around the room and recognize the collective held within the room.

Retired psychologist and teacher Dr. Betsy Stone then masterfully wove these same themes together with questions of “what defines Jewish identity, and what is our responsibility as educators in cultivating it?” as well as understandings of adolescent development from the standpoint of psychology and neuroscience, and the framework of Character Strengths. She then brought us back to where we began: a group of adolescent educators sitting in a room, seeking to both draw from our own strengths, and, to help bolster and cultivate the strengths of our teens, through times of both personal and communal challenge and fear. We connected all of our learnings and brainstormed ways to bring them into our programs where we educate Jewish youth. We were lucky to learn from Dr. Stone who, in the words of one of the participants, shared her “deep expertise, heard each of us, [and] wove conversation into a meaningful narrative.” And, like all Jewish LearningWorks programs, our goal was for educators to walk out with ideas and resources that directly and tangibly support their work. The best part for those who came was ideas for “incorporating [what we learned] into future programs and curriculum. The timing is perfect as we prepare for fall programs with our teens. So many of this discussion also [is relevant for working with] our younger staff…The specific examples of how to support youth was really helpful!”

We hope you will join us for future training programs!