JTConnect Empowers Jewish Teens, One Mitzvah at a Time

Local Federation partner Jewish Teen Learning Connection (JTConnect) gives Greater Hartford’s Jewish teens opportunities to explore, deepen, and celebrate their Judaism. Together, they examine Jewish religion, history, and traditions through innovative, hands-on programming that includes classroom study, volunteer projects, and social events. Below, JTConnect Executive Director Eric Maurer shares some recent successes.

As they stand in a circle in a chilly courtyard at West Hartford’s Beth El Temple, 130 teens’ faces are illuminated by the flames of Havdalah candles and warmed by the friendship of their peers. They are gathered, as individuals and members of various local youth groups and synagogues, to celebrate the seventh night of Hanukkah during an evening of festivities organized by a passionate group of teen leaders.  

Just two weeks earlier, 120 teens volunteered their Sunday afternoon for a giant service project at Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, where they baked nearly 300 pumpkin pies that were donated to nine different holiday meals at local charities. “This project is so meaningful because it gives me a chance to give back while having fun with my friends,” shared Kylie Gertner, one of the teens who planned the Pumpkin Pie Mega-Bake. “It is so important to give back to my community, especially this time of the year, because I receive so much from everything and everyone in it.”

Community-wide events like these build a sense of camaraderie among Jewish teens from all over Greater Hartford. The ability to make connections – to their heritage, to their community, to one another, and to the world – offers a comforting and stable touchstone in an uncertain and increasingly challenging world.  

During 2021, JTConnect has continued to build on the successes of 2020. This year more than 300 teens have participated in classroom study, volunteer projects, and special community-wide events. They’re exploring Judaism with classes on Jewish history, life, arts, and culture. Loud debate, discussion, and laughter permeate our classrooms, where teens debate ethics, craft their own Judaica, respond to global antisemitism, and pursue tikkun olam (repairing the world). They’re also focusing on wellness and learning strategies to cope with stress through a Jewish lens. Teens put their Jewish values into action in the community by feeding the homeless, supporting Afghan refugee families, and cleaning up urban spaces.

JTConnect is grateful for the ongoing support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. Your contributions to Federation’s Annual Campaign connect hundreds of young people from across the Greater Hartford community. Your generosity gives them the opportunity to become passionate leaders, active participants, and strong advocates for the Jewish community.

To learn more about JTConnect, click here or email eric@jtconnect.org or cara@jtconnect.org.

Photo: JTConnect participants mark Havdalah and the seventh night of Hanukkah at Beth El Temple in West Hartford. Image courtesy of JTConnect.