To foster a stronger connection between youths and their identity within the Jewish community, Chabad of Cobb & North Fulton jointly welcomed Rabbi Gedalya Hertz and his wife, Ruthy, as the communities new youth directors July 1.
The Hertzes look forward to increasing engagement among teens in public schools and Jewish day schools in North Fulton and East Cobb to facilitate a greater appreciation for their heritage.
The couple met after Rabbi Hertz’s sister introduced them while Ruthy was living with her in Israel. They have been married two years.
Growing up in Bensonhurst, N.Y., Rabbi Hertz realized early that he would follow in his father’s footsteps to become a rabbi. “It was something I’ve always wanted to do and was brought up wanting to help others in the community.”
After completing yeshiva in Crown Heights and receiving his rabbinical certificate, Rabbi Hertz spent a year of outreach in Argentina’s Jewish community and served as a camp director at Morristown’s Jewish Center, Beit Yisrael.
As the youngest of eight children, Ruthy grew up in Toronto. After graduation, she spent two years in Israel teaching college before returning to the States to become a high school teacher. In addition to working with teens, she also served as a camp director and regularly hosted social events.
“Teens are the future of the Jewish community and are at a pivotal time in which they are not only shaping their identity, but need the most love and attention,” she said. “Providing a Jewish environment is the best way to ensure they receive that attention and continue preserving their heritage.”
Before accepting the position for the communities, Rabbi Hertz taught high school students, and his wife helped create Shabbatons, prepared curriculum and organized numerous events. The opportunity to become youth directors presented itself after they learned about the community’s need for increased programming.
“We were already familiar with Atlanta’s Jewish community, including Chabad’s warm environment and have since built countless relationships with the youth,” Rabbi Hertz said.
The Hertzes hope to implement a series of programs in the fall targeting middle and high school students, including JTYME (Jewish Teens and Youth Mentoring and Engagement), which aims to gather teens once a month, host Shabbatons, provide a regional trip to New York and create friendships.
They also intend to create programs for three age groups: ninth- through 12th-graders; seventh- and eighth-graders; and a bar mitzvah club for youths turning 13.
“We want the kids to be a part of their own social network while creating a sense of Jewish pride and unity,” Ruthy said.
Despite the couple’s excitement about their new opportunity, they are aware of the challenges they may face. “There are so many Jewish teens we would like to connect with, and, thanks to the new program, we hope to do so,” she said. “We want teens to feel they can take an initiative and assume leadership roles as well as ownership and pride in what they’re doing. Although we are creating the program, the teens are playing a much bigger role.”
Since the couple arrived, the Hertzes have launched CTeen in Johns Creek and Marietta, providing clubs and retreats for teens to connect and enhance their Jewish pride.
Ruthy said the programs are part of a worldwide organization under Chabad Teen Network. “We want teens to feel they are not alone but a part of a larger, global network.”
In addition to teen programs, the Hertzes plan to give back to the community by establishing volunteer opportunities, including visits to senior homes. “It’s amazing to see how much the teens will accomplish and better themselves within Judaism,” Ruthy said. “We are excited to be a part of the mission and help teens embrace their idealism.”