TSTI members bond through ParenTeen Connection

Photo Courtesy of TSTI
Approximately 25 TSTI members attended the first ParenTeen Connection meeting to brainstorm ideas for the group and set the agenda for the year. Seated, from left, are Russell Kaplan of South Orange and Jason Friedman of Short Hills; and, back row, from left, are: Jen Strugger of Maplewood, Sheri Friedman of Short Hills and Michael Oxman of South Orange.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — A casual conversation Randi Rievman had with another synagogue member about their children last summer has led to the formation of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel’s ParenTeen Connection, a group that brings together families of high school students for conversation and connections during social events.

Rievman and her husband, Josh, of Short Hills, recognized the need for a group focused not solely on a stage of life but on those with children in the same age range. ParenTeen Connection was borne out of that, as a way to enrich connections between TSTI members with teens in high school — and to support each other through the specific challenges that parenting today’s high school students brings. Participants in ParenTeen Connection all have teens in grades nine through 12. The Rievmans have a freshman and junior in high school.

“There are so many wonderful ways to be active at TSTI and there are groups that cater to our members at various life stages, such as (Re)Connection and Prime Connection,” Rievman said. “But we were looking for a way to be more involved — and keep more parents connected to the synagogue — after the bar/bat mitzvah stage. We saw the need to unify this particular audience, since the teenage years bring unique issues and situations to parents, from the psychological to social to academic. Through ParenTeen Connection, we now all have a resource to deepen our connection to TSTI by navigating the issues we share together through this particular stage of life.”

The Rievmans put together a proposal for TSTI leadership, got the go-ahead, and the first event was held in October 2017 with help from Karen and Jerry Wish, also of Short Hills. Twenty-five people showed up to enjoy potluck appetizers and drinks. Rievman started the night with an ice breaker, giving each participant a different thought-provoking question that touched on parenting to ask as they mingled in pairs. Afterward, everyone broke into small teams to brainstorm the group name and future activities to plan, which were then shared with everyone there.

“The answers prompted a huge conversation and helped us get to know each other better,” Rievman said. “Through the responses and reactions, we saw right away that we were filling a definitive need within the TSTI community.”

That need was reflected in the strong commitment to volunteering for ParenTeen Connection, established at that first meeting. Rachel and Russell Kaplan of South Orange hosted the December meeting — a vodka and latke night around Hanukkah — which was held after everyone met up at the Friday night service. The subsequent event was planned that evening and Wendy Lazarus of South Orange undertook the logistics of planning for a comedy night in February, attending the Jim Breuer performance at SOPAC and going out together afterward for drinks and conversation.

The last event of this school year will be a Cinco de Mayo potluck Mexican theme dinner in May, hosted by Sheri and Jason Friedman of Short Hills. Members are being encouraged to bring their teens to further strengthen the connections. The Saturday evening event will be coupled with a havdalah service.

Rievman stated that the goal for next year is to broaden ParenTeen Connection beyond social gatherings, to discuss current topics that affect them as parents. Among the ideas being floated are to have a psychologist come speak about social or parenting issues, including technology and the social pressures it creates, and invite a college counselor to present to the group.

“We want to make sure the emphasis is always on the social but there are many contemporary issues to discuss, so we’re looking to create a mix of both,” she said.

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