Ready For Some ATID? Monday nights mean Jewish learning for Detroit-area Conservative teens
Whether it is dubbed Alliance for Teens in Detroit, ATID or straight-up “Monday Night School,” Jewish teens from Detroit’s Conservative congregations have the opportunity to come together each Monday evening starting Sept. 12 at Adat Shalom in Farmington Hills. They will socialize with friends over dinner, make further connections with their Jewish heritage and delve into topics that may have been a wee bit too much on the mature side back in their Hebrew school or day school days.
“All the kids know about the creation story and Noah’s Ark,” said ATID Monday Night School Director Melissa Ser. “But do they know about what happened to Noah and his family after the flood, or at Sodom and Gomorrah, or what happened to Dina, Jacob’s only daughter? These are parts of the Torah one cannot exactly discuss with a child in the fourth grade. At ATID, they get to delve into these more mature stories, plus all the ‘whys’ of Judaism as they approach young adulthood.”
Since it started in 2008, ATID’s enrollment has declined, from more than 200 kids to a current enrollment of about 40 teens. This drop can be attributed to busier high school schedules and the demands of secular extracurricular activities.
Is it still worth it to schedule a Hebrew high school program for under 50 kids? If it means a future of more Jews staying connected to Judaism in Detroit, Ser responds with a resounding “yes.”
“If a Jewish adult education program attracted 30 to 40 students on a weekly basis, it would be seen as an absolute success,” Ser said. “We must keep in mind that we also have our teens connected to Jewish education through other outlets, such as being madrichim [helpers] with our younger Hebrew school students on Sundays and midweek, and involvement in youth groups or volunteer opportunities.
“Of course we want our Monday evening program numbers to increase, and to do that we must offer them consistent quality learning that will make giving up a few hours each Monday night well worth their time.”
At the close of last school year, a newly formed teen advisory council helped Ser and ATID faculty put a new spin and focus on the Monday evening program.
“Overwhelmingly, the kids said they wanted to see their Jewish friends and, at the same time, they wanted to do some serious Jewish learning,” Ser said. “And, because of the demanding schedules of high schoolers, they said the classes needed to be worth their time. Everything from Talmud and Torah to Jewish views on relationships, as well as the arts, including Jewish meditation and yoga, spirituality and even photography — to be honest, the same kinds of topics that draw adults to the synagogue for deeper learning.”
Ser said core classes explore the “whys” of Judaism, what Jewish texts have to say about love and relationships, and a deeper understanding of Jewish holidays and life cycles.
Ser said ATID will also place an emphasis on Jewish history, from the centuries leading up to the modern State of Israel to the role of the Jew in American history. For this coursework, Ser said the same skills honed in an Advanced Placement History or English class can be applied to texts such as reading the Israeli Declaration of Independence or “Hatikvah.”
“ATID is a weekly place where Jewish teens can come to learn how Judaism fits into their lives after they become a bar or bat mitzvah,” said Jacob Edelson, 17, of Franklin, a member of the teen advisory council who will be a senior at Groves High School. An alumnus of Hillel Day School, he is also regional president of BBYO.
He said ATID is important because it may be the only opportunity in a busy week where Jewish teens can get together with their Jewish peers and do some formal learning.
“I think most kids after their bar or bat mitzvah keep up with their Judaism through family occasions and celebrating Jewish holidays,” Edelson said. “But at ATID, we get the chance to really explore how Jewish teachings can help them in wider social circles of life.
“ATID can also serve as a gateway for staying connected to other Jewish things like youth groups and volunteering in the Jewish community. And, most importantly, we just get to hang out with our Jewish friends.”
The evening starts with dinner and a Havdalah service followed by a core class. Here is the core curriculum for grades 8-12: grade 8: American Jewry and a history of Zionism and modern Israel, grades 9-10: Bible stories they didn’t teach you in Hebrew School; grades 11-12: Approaching Judaism into the college years and young adulthood.
After core classes, students can choose from electives such as yoga, cooking, Talmud and Jewish impact on various aspects of pop culture, from comic books to music and sports.
A highlight of the year open to all ATID students includes a Dec. 1-4 trip to Whitwell, Tenn., the small rural town whose schoolchildren started the Paper Clips project as a result of studying the Holocaust. The trip includes social opportunities with Jewish teens in Tennessee. Preparations for the trip include pre- and post-lessons with Rabbi Rachel Shere of Adat Shalom and Jodi Gross, Adat Shalom’s director of adult learning and youth engagement.
At the end of each quarter, the teen advisory council will plan a small-scale social outing, and the ticket to attending for free is good attendance in class.
Registration is now open to all Jewish teens in grades 8-12 regardless of denominational affiliation. Scholarships are available. For more information, go to www.atidhs.org, or contact Melissa Ser at firstname.lastname@example.org, (248) 626-2153.
By Stacey Gittleman, Contributing Writer