Reading Ann Pava’s “A Tale of Two Philanthropies” (Jewish Ledger, July 13, 2018), we found ourselves nodding appreciatively in agreement about the importance to the Greater Hartford Jewish Community of nurturing future generations of “proud, knowledgeable, and committed young Jews,” and of her call to strategically invest in Jewish educational excellence.
But we disagree with the suggestion that day school graduates are “most equipped to take our professional and philanthropic places around the Federation table and in the Jewish community at large, making an impact on the entire world.” Investing in day schools should be a high priority, but to suggest that only day school graduates are best equipped to sit at the leadership table fails to recognize the vital importance played by, and the critical need for community investment in, supplementary programs, like Jewish Teen Learning Connection (JTConnect) in providing educational and social opportunities for the vast majority of Jewish teens who don’t – and never will – attend day schools.
In the past year alone, more than 400 Greater Hartford-area teens participated in one or more of JTConnect’s programs, providing them with a myriad of community and classroom experiences to explore, deepen and celebrate their Jewish identity. Our weekly classes, taught by talented rabbis and engaging Jewish educators, enable teens to explore all aspects of Judaism in a social and learning community. In our Teen Leadership and Philanthropy Institute and JTCares programs, teens make a tangible difference in the world today. Students learn about leadership, philanthropy and civic engagement from a Jewish perspective by reviewing historical, philosophical, and ethical texts. Then, by evaluating and funding actual grant proposals, or by serving individuals and communities in need, they put their Jewish knowledge into action, thereby fulfilling the mitzvah of tikkun olam (repairing the world).
We are proud that JTConnect’s graduates report that they are equipped to deal with the challenges they face on their college campuses and prouder still of our graduates who have taken their seat at the leadership table in Jewish agencies here and throughout the world.
We are each a product of a public education system. Each of us also attended a supplemental Jewish high school. And each of us now sit in positions of professional or lay leadership in the Jewish community. We know that none of us would have been equipped to take on these roles had it not been for the exceptional Jewish learning, social and leadership supplementary programs, like JTConnect, that we participated in during our own high school years. And it is through JTConnect that we now endeavor to prepare today’s teens to become passionate participants and future leaders of the Jewish community.
We encourage the community to think about how to best sustain, support and strengthen excellent learning and social programs for all of our teens – in JTConnect and Jewish day schools alike.
Ron Apter, Mark Berkowitz and Eric Maurer
Jewish Teen Learning Connection (JTConnect)