By Shari Weinberger
The 12th annual NAACCHHS conference is 2 weeks away and this year we are in Louisville, KY. People who live in metro NYC generally don’t understand why we would plan a conference in Louisville. The same way they didn’t understand why our past conferences were in Memphis or Buffalo. NAACCHHS is the North American Association of Community and Congregational Hebrew High Schools. We are a consortium of supplemental educational programs for teens and we support programs all over the country, mostly in smaller communities. NY, Boston and LA all have a depth of Jewish activity. There are countless agencies, people of knowledge and funding for a wide variety of activities for the whole community. In smaller communities, there is less depth and therefor fewer Jewish colleagues. NAACCHHS provides a collegial atmosphere for Jewish teen educators to discuss challenges, brainstorm solutions and share best practices.
This year members are coming to the conference from places like Tucson, Columbus and Charlotte. They all look forward to discussions about teenagers and how best to engage with them. It is not a large conference. It is small and intimate. We are expecting about 20 people. For 7 of them it is their very first NAACCHHS conference. The small number has no reflection on Louisville, but on the changing world of Jewish teen education. The difference in school calendars around the country makes it increasingly hard to plan this conference. Some programs begin in August and others not until October depending on the High Holiday schedule. Some end as early as April and others not until June.
Additionally, with most Hebrew High directors being cut to very part time hours, many have to pick up second and third jobs to make ends meet for their families. Day school and camp jobs interfere with conference participation. When your part time Hebrew high director wears many hats, they can no longer devote a week to attending a conference for only one of their jobs. Plus, the conference has historically been in the summer so that it doesn’t interfere with the school year programming. However, with camp jobs overlapping with Hebrew High jobs, there never seems to be a perfect week for a conference. All of these factors combined, have made scheduling the conference increasingly frustrating. Yet, for some the NAACCHHS conference remains a “can’t miss” opportunity.
To address that challenge, we are offering a few sessions online this year via zoom. It certainly won’t be the same as immersing yourself into a room full of educators with shared experiences, yet it is our hope that all who attend, in person or virtually, will be inspired and recharged for another school year of engaging Jewish teens in their communities.