Justin Rosen Smolen: Over the past four and a half years, I have had the absolute privilege to serve as Keshet’s first Director of Youth Programs. When I came to Keshet, I knew I was inheriting a dynamic and celebrated Shabbaton retreat weekend for LGBTQ and Ally Teens taking place each spring in New England. What I did not know–but what I quickly discovered–was how life changing this program was for so many young people around the country. I also could not have anticipated how much this work would shape me as a professional and a gay Jewish adult.
Today, Keshet runs a series of six retreats for queer and trans Jewish youth in regions throughout the country. Last year, we piloted new retreats for trans and genderqueer teens and a Shabbaton for folks aged 18-24. We also launched a research project to begin exploring what youth programming beyond Shabbatonim might look like in future years.
Today I am both excited and sad to share that I will be leaving my role at Keshet in February to assume a new role as Director of Programs at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. During Keshet’s search for a new Director of Youth Programs, we will continue to benefit from the talent and leadership of Ami Altzman, Keshet Youth Programs Manager, who first came to Keshet as a high school senior at the very first Keshet Shabbaton way back in 2012. Over these years we have built a phenomenal team of professional and volunteer staff and educators who power our youth work, and I am proud to leave this work in such capable hands.
Leading this community has changed me. It has increased my understanding of the challenges facing queer and trans Jewish youth, and the work that remains to ensure that people of all gender identities and sexual orientations find a warm home in Jewish life. Just as much, it has nourished and inspired me. I have seen hundreds of young people come through our gates, build beautiful community and relationships, and take those feelings of love and purpose back home, ready to advocate for needed change in their own communities. Personally, I have made friendships that I know will last a lifetime.
What a blessing to have been part of this journey with you and your families. I look forward to seeing the Keshet LGBTQ & Ally Shabbatonim grow, and to seeing the work of its alumni create a Jewish community, and a greater world, of more justice, equality, and dignity.