Move over Generations X and Y, the Jewish “Generation Z” is making its Seattle debut. Through a new Jewish high school program focused on social justice, there will be no classrooms in sight.
Gone is the Community High School of Jewish Studies (Hebrew High) that was centered in the Stroum Jewish Community Center and where a cascade of Jewish teachers and leaders imparted wisdom to youth in chairs and desks for 41 years.
Beginning in October and during the first year, small groups of students in the Livnot program will travel to “justice organizations” throughout Seattle, say program creators. High schoolers will engage with food justice programs, environmental agencies, and homelessness prevention organizations. They will also work in a peer-to-peer Muslim-Jewish dialogue group.
“Generation Z students, born from 1994 to the present, are an exceptional group of young adults who are much more savvy than previous generations and require a shift in how institutions connect with them,” Julie Hayon, Livnot’s education director, told JTNews via email. They are “digital natives…have strong connections to a broad range of people, and they tend to form relationships with people, not institutions.”
Hayon, who last year moved to Seattle with her family from Texas, was recruited for the education director position. She has spent the bulk of her 15-year career working in different facets of Jewish education across the country, and has directed programs ranging from K–8 to adult learning.
“Generation Z was also born into globalization,” Hayon said. “Students are aware of the larger world, they see themselves as part of something bigger, and want to be part of global change and innovation. In addition, Generation Z is very creative. The Internet has allowed students to explore art, music and language and participation in these media.”
Livnot students will get involved in projects and get to see, firsthand, how and why social service organizations operate.
They will also go on extended retreats during the year as well as service-learning trips that will reinforce the experiences they’ve been having in the community organizations they’ve been visiting throughout the year. Once a month, the entire student body will come together for “think tanks.”
According to research used in modeling the Livnot program, Irit Eliav, education director at Congregation Beth Shalom, told JTNews that Z-ers are politically aware, socially conscious, and technologically astute. Z-ers, she said, feel more confident than ever that they can make change and that they can persuade their peers to follow along.
“This program is designed to capitalize on these strengths and interests, while also being rooted in Jewish tradition and learning,” Eliav said. “We held focus groups for teens, met with them one on one, and asked them questions at youth group meetings and events. They were very clear that they wanted high-quality learning, a chance to engage in tikkun olam [repairing the world], and to have a chance to participate in these experiences with their friends. This program is designed to meet all of these needs.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle gave Livnot a $35,000 grant in startup funds. Other monies came from private donors, and tuition will round out the remainder of its operating budget. The program, originally conceived of by staff and clergy at Congregation Beth Shalom and Herzl-Ner Tamid, was further developed by a board made up of clergy and lay members working over the last year.
Carol Starin, Livnot committee co-chair with Donna Peha, said she is looking forward to the pilot year of the project.
“I’m very excited, because it is bold, it is new, it’s pretty creative, and it’s scary, too, because I don’t think our community has ever done anything like this,” Starin said. “It’s not going to be focused in just one place and all of the learning is going to be focused on social justice issues. They are going to have choices.”
Beginning October 7, students will gather at Jewish Family Service from 5:30 to 8 p.m. for their first think tank session called “Why Poverty Exists.” Ken Weinberg, CEO of Jewish Family Service, will speak. Parents are welcome to attend the session and dinner will also be available.
Teaching will also look very different in the Livnot program. Jewish teachings will accompany each eight-week module, but they may come from a variety of sources.
“There will be texts, but I don’t know if there will be textbooks,” added Starin. “A text might be from the Torah or a Talmud text, or a novel. It will depend on what it is they’ve chosen to learn. What are being hired are text people.”