By Lila Greene and Rabbi Elizabeth Zeller
NFTY is, at its core, a youth-powered organization that works to help teens develop themselves as Jews and as leaders in our communities. Since its inception almost 80 years ago, NFTY’s mission has been to cultivate a space where teens can truly take ownership of their Judaism and lead the way to in shaping our Movement’s activism, learning, and sacred communities.
Also at its foundation, is the partnership that youth have with the adults they work with in creating meaningful programs and experiences in NFTY. Whether it is regional directors, clergy, youth professionals, or even lay leaders, teens and adults interact in a wide variety of ways throughout their experiences in NFTY and in their Jewish world. These youth-adult partnerships, like any relationship, take work. It takes commitment, communication, and empathy to work towards a common goal, but ultimately, it takes trust to achieve success.
Partnership is not an action, it’s a feeling. A meaningful partnership doesn’t mean equal amounts of work, it means equal feelings of ownership and accomplishment. Both teens and adults should feel like their input is reflected in the outcome of their work.
In our society, adults are inherently given more power than teens. When working towards an equal partnership, it is important to recognize this imbalance of power and to work to correct it – especially in a system that promotes teen-led peer to peer leadership with support from adults. It can be hard for a teen to speak up, which is why it is critical to open up the space for them to join a conversation, especially if they may not know it is there for the taking. It is important to lift teens up and support their leadership. We must create an atmosphere where each party can give input and share ideas in a way that creates a comfortable, open conversation where everyone can push back, move work forward, and feel like they are heard. Teens might not inherently trust that all adults are interested in having an equal partnership with them. But trust, from both parties, should not be earned or proven; it should be given. It’s most easily given when space is created for each partner to equally share in the ownership of the task at hand.
Teens don’t want to be treated like adults, they want to be treated like teens. They might do things a little differently, and perhaps they don’t have years of experience and knowledge, but they bring their own invaluable perspective to every project they take on. Teens are creative and passionate and inspired partners. Adults bring knowledge, experience, and perspective. This is why we work towards equitable and supportive partnerships. This is why we work together.
We are incredibly excited that this post is the first of a series of blog posts that will be coming out each month from our regional teen-adult partners who will be showcasing their partnerships, delving in to lessons they have learned, and share tips and tricks for cultivating the best partnership possible.
Lila Greene is NFTY’s North American Board President for the 2018-2019 year.
Rabbi Liz Zeller is NFTY’s Director of Learning and Innovation.