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What I've Learned by Working with Youth: A Spotlight on Emanuel Congregation Director of Jewish Learning and Engagement, Tani Prell

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I grew up as an only child, never baby sat, and was very convinced that I would never, ever want to work with young people even if you paid me to do it. Well, never say never. After college I joined Teach for America in hopes of having an impact (even a small one) on educational inequality. I was placed in a high school and while it was the hardest thing that I have done in my adult life, my students were a gift.  Their endless energy, resilience and hope convinced me that young people will always be our best hope for creating positive change in our world. 

While I was teaching, I became a student myself. I had attended a Lutheran school from preschool through high school but I always had a deep love for Judaism. I loved Jewish values, history, and traditions and knew from a very young age that one day I wanted to become Jewish myself.  I started attending Jews by Choice classes at Anshe Emet and immersed myself in Jewish life. Every day that I got to teach and then go to services or classes, I felt that I was living my most complete life.  I thought that if I could combine my two passions of education and Judaism, then that would be a dream job if there ever was one. 

Dreams come true, and here I am today as Emanuel Congregation’s Director of Jewish Learning and Engagement. Emanuel’s dedication to social justice and diversity drew me to the community. At Emanuel I oversee the religious school, youth groups, and confirmation program.  From the youngest people to our high schoolers, they all bring so many ideas, joy and enthusiasm to the synagogue.  

Every time the kids are in the building they demonstrate what Jewish values can look like at every stage.  

Preschool through third grade perform g’milut chasadim,acts of loving kindness, as often as possible. They are happy and want those around them to be happy as well. Whether it’s stick figure drawings on cards to kids in the hospital or sharing their goldfish, they spread the love. 

Fourth Grade show kibud av v'em, honor for their parents, regularly. They always greet their parents with hugs, tell their parents about their days with excitement, reference them during class, and invite them to share in their religious school experiences. 

Middle Schoolers are constantly asking questions.  As young Jewish scholars they enjoy interpreting text, debating big Jewish question and are ready to respectfully stand up for what they believe in.  

High Schoolers at Emanuel have created a community centered on tikkun olam. They are ready to repair the world and are committed to social justice. Confirmation classes are focused on discussing topics of social change. The teens have a chance to bring these discussions into practice at L’Taken with the Religious Action Center in D.C. this March. 


While younger me would have fought you on this, adult me can confidently say that working with young people is awesome. The Jewish community is filled with emerging leaders who will undoubtedly make the world a better place. I feel blessed to be a part of their journey.