Engaging Jewish Youth in Old and New Ways

Despite the unexpected challenges posed by COVID-19, the West Hartford chapter of United Synagogue Youth (WHUSY) — the youth movement of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism — has not given up on bringing teens together to celebrate and explore their Jewish identities! In fact, the pandemic has made WHUSY stronger through perseverance and creative innovation. Below, WHUSY advisor Tamar Mor shares some recent programming highlights.

Prior to COVID-19, WHUSY held themed Shabbat dinners throughout the year. Understandably, these in-person gatherings helped create a sense of togetherness. But now more than ever — when we’re often unable to be together in person — we appreciate the community we’ve created. 

Thanks to the flexibility and dedication of our teens, WHUSY has held several successful programs both virtually and in person. Over the past few months, we’ve enjoyed celebrating Shabbat mornings together in small programs hosted by Beth El Temple and The Emanuel Synagogue. And of course, we’ve also found new ways to have fun! We put our minds to the test in a virtual escape room and even celebrated our favorite holidays onscreen. 

For Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees, we held a safe and socially distanced plant-and-paint program. We painted pots, planted succulents, and learned about the holiday. Although we had to keep it small, we were able to enjoy each other’s company and form new friendships. Plus, everyone took home new plants — in beautifully decorated pots — to care for.

For Purim, we celebrated with a virtual hamantaschen bake. Fresh dough was delivered to each door so our teens and their families could bake their own cookies. We baked together, played some Purim trivia, and — in true Purim fashion — even got dressed up! 

“Celebrating Purim virtually with my USY friends was the perfect way to stay connected and bake some delicious hamantaschen,” said Sophie K., 16. “I can’t wait for more events soon!”

Although things may look a bit different these days, it always fills us with joy to spend time and celebrate holidays with other Jewish teens. Both virtual and in-person programs are at the heart of our chapter. Virtual programs have been a successful and safe way for us to have fun and connect in larger groups, even with teens across the country. And COVID-safe in-person events give us the chance to step away from technology and enjoy some face-to-face interaction. These programs would not be possible without the continuous support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, which has allowed us to successfully execute our creative new programs.

As we move toward a new normal, WHUSY looks forward to more engaging events and programs. Whether we’re smiling through our webcams or chatting safely in person, we are grateful for the new memories this challenging year has brought.

Above: Vered W., Maya W., and Sophie K. show off their painted plant pots from Tu B’Shevat. Image courtesy of WHUSY.