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Re-Zhuzh your Jewish Teen Program for the New Year with the Fab 5

Photo credit Netflix

As seen on eJewishPhilanthropy

By Danielle Segal, JTFN Program Director

Old TV shows are making a comeback. It’s hard to scroll through your preferred streaming service or turn on your TV without seeing a re-hashing of an old favorite: Buffy The Vampire Slayer is being brought back from the undead, Rosanne made a brief and contentious return, and Will and Grace are still proving that they have the bestie relationship that makes us all jealous. However, one particular stand-out reboot is making waves thanks to five lovable hosts and the need to shout to your viewing partner: “I’m not crying … you’re crying!”

Queer Eye (the rebooted version of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, 2003) graced Netflix this year, already with 2 seasons based around Atlanta, GA, and a special episode in Australia. The Fab Five (Antoni Porowski, Jonathan Van Ness, Bobby Berk, Tan France and Karamo Brown) help a different person each episode with their food habits, grooming, home design, clothing and culture. This show goes beyond the usual “makeover” format, embarking on what at first seems like superficial changes, but soon leads to great moments of compassion, connection and community-building. However, the Fab Five don’t change the essence of their episodic hero; they help them transform into the best version of themselves without losing their own sense of self.

As the summer season draws to a close, there is a chance for reflection within your Jewish teen program. There might be tried and tested successes that you want to repeat, but there might also be areas that are in need of a makeover. This does not mean changing the whole nature of your program; this academic new year (and Jewish new year!) might offer the chance to re-zhuzh, (zhoosh, juj, zhush… so many spellings), small elements of a program, that can make a big difference.

At the Jewish Teen Funders Network, our focus is strengthening Jewish engagement and identity through Jewish teen philanthropy programs. Looking through the lens of the Fab Five, here are some little ways to re-zhuzh the Jewish teen philanthropy experience and Jewish teen programming in any setting:

Grooming

Jonathan says: “How you take care of yourself is how the world sees you” (Queer Eye, Season 1, Episode 1, 2018)

Jewish Tradition says: “If I am not for myself who will be for me?”(Pirkei Avot 1:14)

Grooming is not just about hair, make-up and the using the exact amount of pomade. It’s about taking the time for self-care: this might manifest in something physical (diet, exercise, skin care, etc) or it can be mental preparation and feeling ready to tackle the day. If you, as a program leader, take care of your own personal, educational and professional growth, then you can pass on those life lessons and energy to your teens. There might be a workshop, fellowship or conference that piques your interest, or maybe an online discussion group with other Jewish teen professionals (ask us – jtfn@jtfn.org – if you are interested!). Whatever makes you feel renewed as a professional can have a positive impact on your program as a whole.

Food

Antoni says: “There’s so much that you can do with food.” (GQ interviewwith AntoniPorowski)

Jewish Tradition says: “Without sustenance there is no Torah.” (Pirkei Avot 3:21)

You don’t have to tell us twice… Don’t work hard on an empty stomach! As the wise Ethics of the Fathers explains, food is a necessary part of study and working together as a group. If your program timing coincides with a meal, you might already have a food plan in place (pizza for dinner?), but there is also room to experiment with using the moment of food for a moment of learning: offering foods that are associated with Jewish festivals, saying a blessing before eating, or snacking on fruits of the 7 species. The offering of food can also symbolize hospitality that can be so intrinsic to the atmosphere of your program, especially if your teens don’t know each other at the start of the year. Making teens feel welcome through the use of food can be a powerful tool. Being vigilant about food allergies, asking about food preferences and bringing a special treat on birthdays can demonstrate to your group that you care about their well-being and sense-of-place.

Design

Bobby says: “As a designer, the best part of our job is for a client to be happy in their home.” (MIC interview with Bobby Berk)

Jewish Tradition says: “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make it an ark with compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make an opening for daylight in the ark, and terminate it within a cubit of the top. Put the entrance to the ark in its side; make it with bottom, second, and third decks.” (Genesis 6:14-16)

The instructions for building the ark for Noah’s animals are very specific: height, width, length, materials, and number of floors. The design for the ark takes into account the wants and needs of the animals: natural light, a covering, and separate rooms. Are you exploring the idea of changing your program space? Is there enough natural light so as not to make the room seem claustrophobic? Are there enough breakout spaces to meet the needs of your program? Is it large enough to accommodate all your teens comfortably? Sometimes the luxury of choosing an exact space isn’t available, and you are assigned a room which is used by many different groups on different days. Rearranging the furniture or hanging different wall coverings can offer a fresh look for this new year. Asking your teens to create a movable mural or poster that demonstrates the group’s values and mission can make a space feel your own even if it is a multi-use room.

Fashion

Tan says: “I want [you] to be the best version of [yourself].” (Queer Eye, Season 1, Episode 6, 2018)

Jewish Tradition says: “The opening for the head shall be in the middle of it; the opening shall have a binding of woven work round about – it shall be like the opening of a coat of mail – so that it does not tear. On its hem make pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, all around the hem, with bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around the hem of the robe.” (Exodus 28:32-34)

According to a 2012 study at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, wearing a scientists coat made subjects perform tasks better. What you wear can have an impact on how you bring yourself to the table and can set up the expectation for the participants in the room: if you, as the facilitator, turn up in yoga clothes, and also ask your teens to wear yoga clothes, the teens could safely assume that they will be engaging in some sort of yoga activity! The clothes that we wear can affect the overall atmosphere of a program: relaxed, casual, and comfortable, or formal, elite and established. Is there an option to experiment and see which the teens prefer? Additionally, wearable swag can be a great way to show unity and make the teens feel part of a cohesive group. It can also provide exposure if all your teens are wearing their program shirt at community events, volunteering opportunities or site visits. Consider allowing the new cohort of teens to design their item of branded clothing for a new and individualized look.

Culture

Karamo says: “But guess what, this is your journey. This is your life. Design it how you want.” (Queer Eye, Season 2, Episode 6, 2018)

Jewish Tradition says: “The Torah is a tree of life to those who cling to it. All who uphold it are happy.” (Proverbs 3:18)

How do you infuse the rich culture and teachings of Judaism into your teen programs? How do you take this to the next level so that your teens have a meaningful Jewish experience at the same time as learning about philanthropy, experiencing grantmaking, and developing new leadership skills? While many programs begin with studying Maimonides Ladder and exploring our own Jewish values, what can be the next step? Perhaps it is incorporating ritual, looking at the shape of the Jewish week, or examining tradition texts. In this New Year, take the opportunity to re-evaluate and rethink the Jewish backbone of your program – the possibilities are as endless as they are enriching!