Assistant Director of Camping and Youth Services Mike Steklof traveled to Israel for 10 days in October as part of his Merrin Teen Professional Fellows Program for some intensive programming.
One of just 15 professionals working with teens chosen from across North America for this prestigious program, Steklof explained that the fellows focused on three pillars: Jewish literacy, teen engagement and networking.
“The number one focus was on how to engage teens,” he explained. “We met with people who work with teens like the leadership of the Tzofim.” Louisvillians are familiar with one part of The Tzofim or Israeli Scouts program, because a group of Tzofim performers stop in Louisville most summers to put on a show for JCC summer campers and community members that tells Israel’s story and shares pride in the Jewish State.
The fellows learned how the Tzofim build their curriculum and how they put together their plan for the year. Since Steklof develops the yearly plan for Louisville’s BBYO program, he said, “It was interesting to see how they do things differently and the same and how I can incorporate some of their ideas.
“Teens in Israel are more engaged that the ones I lead,” he observed, “but in Israel, teen organizations have fewer full-time employees, so teens drive the programming” more than they do here. With all the other things teens here are involved in, Steklof was not sure how that would translate to Louisville.
The fellows also met with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) program leader for gap year programs who “challenged us on how much we can give the teens to do and how much we do,” he said.
Steklof is currently working with BBYO and Pact in Action, a program designed to address dating violence in the Parkhill, Algonquin and California Neighborhoods. As a Merrin Fellow, he is looking at ways to form connections between members of BBYO and Pact in Action as well as between JCC teen programs and inner city teen programs in other communities.
A highlight of the trip for Steklof was the opportunity to spend time with Avraham Infeld, the consummate teacher who has invested his lifetime building Jewish identity and strengthening the State of Israel. Steklof found Infeld inspiring.
The group spent a day at an Israeli high school where they learned about the Israeli education system, “which is very different than American education,” he said. And another day was spent with Mechina, a gap-year program for Israeli teens between high school and their mandatory Army service.
“We looked at growing up as a teen in Israel,” he explained, “to get a better sense of understanding Israeli culture.” The group also looked at a program for underprivileged children and juvenile delinquents where they spend time working on a farm in rural Israel. “It was interesting to learn how they built the program and how they deal with Jewish pluralism as well as mental health issues.
Immediately upon his return, Steklof put his new understanding of Israeli culture to work. There was a BBYO sleepover with the theme, “From Holocaust to Israel.” Holocaust survivor Fred Gross spoke to the group and Steklof “shared what I just learned.”
The Merrin Teen Professional Fellows Program was started in 1999, with the support of Seth Merrin and Anne Heyman. Their partnership with JCC Association initiated this exceptional program to give those working with teens the skills to better serve a critical sector of the Jewish community.