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Saturday, July 26, 2014

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Kids take leadership roles in youth network

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Rabbi Shmuli Nachlas and Chani Nachlas founded the Jewish Youth Network. [Ben Katan photo]

TORONTO — Greater Toronto Area: meet the Jewish Youth Network (JYN.) Formerly the Chabad Youth Network (CYN), the five-year-old non-profit organization has changed its name to reflect its mandate and broader clientele as it attracts teens from across the Jewish community.

“Over the last few years, our spectrum has been widening. We’ve been engaging more youth and teens from all kinds of Jewish backgrounds and affiliations – some with none at all,” said Rabbi Shmuli Nachlas, who co-founded the organization with his wife, Chani.

The JYN prides itself on drawing teens from all walks of life and parts of the Jewish community to social, educational and volunteer programming.

“The name ‘Jewish Youth Network’ more represents our clientele, and the student base we’re serving. We want to be inclusive of everyone, whether you’re Orthodox, Reform or unaffiliated,” he said.

Throughout the year, the grassroots organization runs Torah 4 Teens, youth lounges, retreats, Hebrew school and leadership programs. After Passover, they are taking a group on a Shabbaton to Washington, D.C., to tour the city and visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The JYN also runs teen aid and community service programs through a program called Teens for the Community.

“We’re continuing to expand our educational and social events, and recently we’ve had hundreds come to volunteer and co-ordinate volunteer initiatives,” Rabbi Nachlas said.

He hopes his organization will help keep young people attached to Israel, each other, and Judaism.

The group recently held a matzah drive to help needy families at Passover and organized a basketball fundraiser.

Rabbi Nachlas believes the organization has been successful because the teens involved have been able to take ownership of the programs.

“In this day and age, in the era of social media, the world has changed a lot,” he said. “The JYN is very much run from the bottom up, with kids taking serious leadership roles. All of it is done and led by youth, and that’s key to staying relevant.”

Rabbi Nachlas says the programs themselves vary from year to year to better align with the interests of current participants. “Our goal is to inspire the Jewish youth. How that’s done will change, and kids will steer us to keep us engaging,” he said.

Currently, the JYN also runs its own video channel, which can be found through their website at jewishyouth.ca.

 “We allow for the expression of individuals, because it makes kids feel like it’s something of their own. That’s why they’re excited to get their friends on board,” Rabbi Nachlas said.

The JYN runs its activities out of two drop-in centres, one at Bathurst Street and Highway 407 and the other at Bathurst Street and Eglinton Avenue.

For more information, visit Facebook.com/jewishyouth or phone 905-889-7582.

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