Okun, 23, grew up in Tampa, Fla., until she moved to Tallahassee to study sociology. Since the age of 8, Okun had dreamed of being a Jewish summer camp director, and after college she moved to San Diego to work toward that dream as the programming associate at Camp Mountain Chai.
She worked at the California Jewish summer camp for a year and a half and discovered she liked camp mainly during the summer and not as much in the offseason.
“I loved camp during camp (sessions), but I really missed the constant teen and youth engagement and working with them during the year,” she said.
Okun decided to change jobs because she wanted to work with teens and younger children on a regular basis while still being able to implement programming, which is one of her passions. In early August, Okun moved across the country to work in Sandy Springs at Temple Sinai.
As a teen, Okun was involved with the youth organization NFTY-STR in Tampa and was on her local youth group’s board and the regional board. In her spare time, she enjoys sports, especially kickball, and is a big hockey fan.
Okun was drawn to Temple Sinai because of the synagogue’s staff, clergy and philosophy.
“The people who work here are so wonderful, so I was really excited to join this team in particular and come into this community, which is so innovative by thinking outside of the box,” Okun said. “The thing I love most about Temple Sinai is that we feel very strongly that nothing is one size fits all in our religious school and youth programming. We really strive to have different options for different types of kids.”
Okun oversees Sinai’s five youth groups, spanning from kindergarten through 12th grade. She is also the youth adviser for Sinai’s high school youth group, SCRUFY, which is a chapter of NFTY. In addition, Okun is responsible for all the madrichim, the teens who serve as the religious school assistants.
“This year we have 48 madrichim, which is awesome. It’s more than we’ve ever had,” she said.
One challenge Okun has faced in engaging teens and other youths at Temple Sinai is that she arrived late in the summer, right when much of the programming was about to start, and the High Holidays are right around the corner.
“It’s exciting, but it’s definitely challenging to get the ball rolling with not that much time to let everything happen,” Okun said.
She has plans for some new youth programs to be implemented under her leadership, such as a Jewish cooking class. For fifth- and sixth-grade girls, Temple Sinai is planning a program to enhance self-confidence and teach them the importance of having positive body image.
“We want them to recognize that being unique is acceptable. Everyone was born different for a reason, and that’s totally OK,” Okun said.
She and her colleagues are in the process of proposing a team internship program to the temple board in which the teens will be guided by a mentor from the Temple Sinai staff, such as one of the rabbis, the cantor or the education director, on a specific topic.
“We want to provide our teens with unique leadership experience and help them develop skills in specific areas,” Okun said.