Kesher teens led Shir Tikvah’s Earth Day Shabbat Service on April 22.
Kesher teens led Shir Tikvah’s Earth Day Shabbat Service on April 22.

The program includes students who are in their b’nai mitzvah year through high school.

Kesher means connection. Whether it’s retelling the story of the Exodus or playing Jewish geography, our ties to each other strengthen and guide us. For the teens at Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy, Kesher is their community. 

CST’s Kesher program includes students who are in their b’nai mitzvah year through high school. Students come from all over the Metro Detroit area to meet on Sunday afternoon or Monday evening, depending on the month. The meeting times reflect the needs of the students. Each session begins the same way, with a meal and an icebreaker. 

As Mia Halson, 14, put it, “We all choose to be there. And they feed us. We bond over food.” 

According to Keegan Hull, 13, “Kesher is more than just religious school; it’s a friends group and a community … The older kids treat everyone the same. Everyone contributes.”

CST’s Director of Lifelong Learning Sarah Chisholm and CST Youth Director Carrie Keough work together to develop programming that meets the educational and religious needs of students while strengthening connections and empowering teens to guide their own learning. Kesher meets on a flexible schedule and each lesson stands alone. For students with multiple commitments, it means a missed lesson doesn’t impede progress. 

The Earth Day Shabbat Service that took place on April 22 is a perfect example of Kesher in action. While it is not unusual for student groups to lead services, what made the Kesher-led Earth Day service different was that it was not just student-led, but student-created, right down to the original siddur. 

In preparation, students examined each part of the service, asking why is it there, what does it mean and how do we make it meaningful? As students developed their service, they met regularly with Rabbi Alicia Harris. The discussion covered not only how all the parts of a Shabbat service go together, but what each means to the congregation. Students were able to ask questions and share their opinions and ideas without judgment.

“We get to deeper understanding. We discussed things and read the Hebrew together as we put the service together,” Halson said. 

Keough described the student’s process during the lesson development:  “Using the elements of the service and how it’s presented, students made sure their message was interesting to them and that it would be interesting to others.” 

Students included an activity instead of a d’var Torah. They discussed, examined and finally developed a craft that allowed congregants to share in creating art. The craft using the flora that surrounds Shir Tikvah made tangible the message of tikkun olam and how we are all connected to each other and the Earth. 

With their Earth Day service behind them, what’s in store for the Kesher teens? It’s Camp Tikvah in Lexington, Mich., in late August, an opportunity for the community to reconnect and relax before the school year starts. Teens have Shabbos dinner with the congregation but at their own table. They can mingle with the congregation for programming but have teen-only time as well. These activities include a bonfire on the beach, kayaking and time in the high ropes/tree climbing area. 

Chisholm explained, “There is so much happening that the kids really get up and get going — even after being up all night!” 

Because the teens get so many extras, they return the favor to the group by providing about an hour and a half of supervised babysitting, freeing the parents of younger children to attend an adult social hour. The teens keep the younger ones busy with games, crafts and fun while continuing to bond and build community. 

Congregation Shir Tikvah is a Reform/Renewal synagogue located at 3900 Metro Parkway in Troy. CST is an inclusive and welcoming synagogue that invites prospective members to attend a service and/or check out Camp Tikvah in Lexington Mich., Aug. 26-28. Questions can be directed to CST’s Executive Director Lorelei Berg at (248) 649-4418 or info@shirtikvah.org.

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