WINNIPEG — Brian Scharfstein remembers what it was like growing up in Winnipeg’s Jewish community in the 1950s and ’60s.
“Back then, there were always activities for kids and teens at the Jewish centre [the old YMHA],” he recalled. “There was floor hockey. There were clubs. There was always something going on.”
Scharfstein, chairman of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg’s “Grow Winnipeg” initiative – which aims to stabilize and increase the city’s Jewish population – hopes that a new community program to train teen leaders that’s just getting underway will give the current younger generation similar memories of growing up in Manitoba’s capital.
“Our new Machon Madrichim program may well be the most important initiative we have seen in our community in many years,” Scharfstein said. “One of our mandates at Grow Winnipeg is recruitment and retention. Machon Madrichim may be the bridge that connects all of our other retention programs.”
Added Machon Madrichim steering committee member Sergio Vulej: “One of the things we were hearing in the community was of the need for more activities that would appeal to teens, activities that would be fun.”
Machon Madrichim is modelled on the federation’s successful four-year-old Club Fed, which takes younger adults through a year-long course intended to familiarize them with all aspects of the community.
Interim Machon Madrichim director Hart Jacob said the program is a two-year Jewish leadership development course for grade 10 and 11 students aimed at training them to develop and lead youth activities and connect more strongly with the community.
The program will focus on Jewish traditions and holidays, group dynamics, leadership and planning techniques, community and social involvement, and also involve hands-on activities. As well, there will be workshops on Israeli dancing and songs, wilderness activities, arts and crafts, drama, camping and first aid.
The program will rotate among different Jewish institutions in the city, and will involve one three-hour class a week and a monthly weekend activity.
At the end of the two-year program, the participants will be qualified to be camp counsellors and youth group leaders.
“The [Jewish] camps have done a good job of fostering youth leadership,” said Jacob, who was the program director at Camp Massad for the past three years. “But they only operate in the summers. A year-round program such as Machon Madrichim will turn out leaders who are more well-rounded.”
Scharfstein said that what he really likes about the new program is that it’s aimed at young people who don’t spend a lot of time at the Asper Jewish Community Campus, Winnipeg’s main Jewish centre.
“The majority of Jewish high school students aren’t at the campus,” he said.
Jacob said he has just started marketing the program to Jewish high school students in the city. “We expect to be starting the classes in September,” he added.