1. What are you going to be speaking about this year at YouthCon? 
I am excited to be talking about how to use practical digital tools in the classroom and beyond. In the classroom, we will explore the latest EdTech tools and apps that can help give your educational environment more impact.
For the "beyond" part, I am really looking forward to having a conversation about how we, as educators, can use technology, and social media in particular, to create a personal learning network of fellow educators that can serve as a tremendous resource.

2. Have there been significant changes in the world of digital media since last year?
I think that the trend towards mobile has continued to develop at a rapid pace. More and more people are using smartphones, which, when you think about, are actually mini-computers. Mobile devices can and are playing a larger role in education, as classrooms shift from teacher centered instruction on a SmartBoard to a focus on students collaborating together and using their phones, iPads and laptops to research and create classroom content in new and exciting ways.
As an educator, this shift is revolutionary as well. Having a smartphone in your pocket means that any time, in school or in line at the supermarket, there is an opportunity for on demand professional development, using social media tools.

3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?

Definitely connecting with colleagues and meeting new people. When so many committed and talented educators gather together at an event like YouthCon, there is a buzz and energy in the room that is really invigorating and inspiring, and we take that back with us when we return to work in our schools and organization. It's really a credit to the vision of the OU and NCSY that they continue to find ways to connect us all, and really build a culture of sharing and collaborating among Jewish educators.

Rabbi Dov Emerson is an Assistant Principal at the DRS Yeshiva High School for Boys, part of the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach (HALB), in Woodmere, NY. Dov is a founder of #jedchat, a weekly Twitter chat for Jewish educators, and he is the administrator of YU 2.0, an online community of practice for Jewish educational technology. Dov is a winner of the 2011 Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award, and he was recently honored as a member of The New York Jewish Week’s 2012 “36 Under 36.”


1. What will you be presenting on at YouthCon?
I will be participating in a panel discussion in the Synagogue track titled:  iProgramming: Synagogue Programming in the Digital Age.
2. Do you think a Synagogue's Youth Director can have an effect in guiding a child's life? 
The short answer: absolutely. I became a youth director because of the wonderful experience I had working in my childhood youth department under Youth Director, David Cutler, first as a youth group leader, then as an assistant youth director. In fact, David’s track record for his protégés is testament to the long-lasting impact a dedicated youth director can have — at least 9 of David’s youth leaders went on to become youth directors in the past 10 years. However, aside from the obvious positive impact that can result from supportive relationships between a youth director and individual youth members/leaders, the youth director is also in the unique position to create positive associations and warm memories of Shabbat, tefillah, synagogue, and community — for hundreds of children. Classical conditioning of emotion begins at the first moment of a new experience. Every factor that coincides with a youth event forms a psychological and neurological association; these associations inform the reaction and feelings children have towards similar events later in their adult life. It follows that a youth director who has created an environment in which tefillah is meaningful, parsha engaging and Shabbat the highlight of the week, has fostered powerful associations that can last a lifetime.
3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
The move to formalize informal education has received a lot of recent attention in the Jewish educational world. Increasingly informal education is viewed as a legitimate, respectable, professional career path — this is a wonderful shift. I am curious to discover how informal educators feel about topics previously reserved for the formal Ed world. Specifically I am excited to dialogue with synagogue and camp professionals about topics such as inclusion and special need programming; prevention of child sexual abuse; curriculum development and educationally substantive informal-ed programming; anti-bullying programs; family counseling; formalized leadership, curriculum and safety training for entry-level staff (e.g., camp counselors and youth group leaders); professional development for senior staff; and organizational management… to name a few. I believe that the sooner informal educators formalize their departments and programs by giving considerable thought to these areas, the sooner their role as serious, indispensible educators (worthy of competitive compensation!) can be cemented. And I believe that Youth Con, the largest gathering of informal Jewish educators worldwide, is an incubator for these sorts of conversations.

Shira M. Berkovits is a WINGS Youth Consultant for the Department of Synagogue Services at the OU and previously served as Youth Director of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. Shira has a Ph.D. in Learning and Behavioral Psychology from the Graduate Center, CUNY, where she was an Enhanced Chancellor’s Fellow and adjunct professor. Her dissertation focused on motivation in college students and her research on synagogue youth leader attendance was recently published. Currently, Shira is pursuing her JD degree at Cardozo School of Law, where she is a Monrad Paulson Scholar and intern at the Innocence Project. Shira hopes to combine her youth, psychology, and legal expertise in the defense and rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents.

1. Do you think bullying is an issue in informal education? 
Unfortunately, bullying is an issue everywhere. Bullying happens most in informal settings and with less adult supervision. It involves social group pressures, and the interactions between individuals. This makes informal settings a prime arena for teasing, harassment and social exclusion. Creating caring peer networks is, of course, possible. It means setting the stage, making it the “in” thing to do, building youth leadership and social responsibility, and challenging callousness or  “blindness” to the social well-being of others. I believe most youth want to be leaders not followers, most want to be kind, not cruel, most want to make a difference. Informal education settings and programs provide ideal opportunities to create the environments and give youth the tools grow into socially responsible citizens.

2. Is there anything unique in bullying in the Jewish world? 
The Jewish world is a tiny one. Everyone knows everyone else. That means a young person who is socially excluded in one setting (like school) may be equally alone in other settings (camp, shul) because of the overlap of social networks. Also unique, however, is our mesorah, our powerful tradition of caring and inclusion. We have the opportunity to really live the words Kal Yisrael areyvim zeh la zeh and al taamod al dam reyecha.

3. What are you looking forward to most at YouthCon? 
I do the bulk of my work in Jewish schools, where no matter how committed educators are to social issues, they have important mandates to cover curriculum as well. I’m excited to meet with engaged informal educators, for many of whom the heart and soul of their work is addressing the social lives of youth. 

Rona Novick, PhD is the Director of the Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Doctoral Program at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration at Yeshiva University and Clinical Professor of Child Psychology at North Shore Long-Island Jewish Medical Center.  Dr. Novick also serves as co-educational director of the Hidden Sparks program, providing consultation to day schools and Yeshivas. Dr. Novick developed the Alliance for School Mental Health at North-Shore Long Island Jewish Medical Center and served as its director for eight years, authoring the BRAVE bully prevention program for schools.  
Dr. Novick is a frequent and much sought speaker for both professional and general audiences. Her wit, warmth and engaging style, coupled with extensive knowledge in the fields of psychology, parenting, education and family life have earned her recognition nationally.  She is the author of a book for parents:  Helping Your Child Make Friends, and editor of the book series Kids Don’t Come With Instruction Manuals. Dr. Novick has made numerous appearances on local and national television and radio. 

As the mother of three sons, Dr. Novick credits much of her knowledge and skill to on the job training.

1. What is YouthCon?
YouthCon is a unique international program that helps Jewish education come alive by convening the most creative and innovative leaders of 2012.  Participants are able to network and learn, surrounded by fellow youth professionals from all different geographic locations and backgrounds.

2. How does YouthCon help you in your position as Assistant Director of Synagogue Services at the Orthodox Union?
A main goal of my department is networking and connecting synagogue youth professionals from around the country. At YouthCon, we are able to bring together synagogues, Jewish organizations, schools, and individuals and combine their efforts and talents to strengthen and reinforce the Jewish community at large. 

3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
YouthCon provides a forum for the most creative minds in Jewish informal education and enables their creativity to flourish at the convention. Feedback from YouthCon 2011 and new components for this year’s convention including cutting edge speakers, consulting center, and interactive workshops are a few ways YouthCon will be brought to the next level. 

Penny Pazornick serves as the Associate Director of Synagogue Services at the Orthodox Union, where she began as a coordinator for the department. Synagogue Services provides resources, guidance, and expertise to over 800 synagogues across North America, enabling synagogues to grow and reach new levels of inspirational achievement. Penny created the Youth Professionals Network, a unique network that connects synagogue youth professionals across the country, provides programming resources and professional development opportunities.

1. As the head of the largest Jewish university, what do you see as the role of informal education?
I believe that experiential education is an essential partner with formal, text-based, education in developing the full intellect, the full citizen, and the full Jew. I believe that young people must know their story and own their story, both of which happen by the combination of both experiential and formal Jewish education.

2. What is the greatest challenge facing Jewish educators right now?
To instill a sense of Jewish passion, of a greater connection with both being a part of klal Yisrael and of connecting with God. And I think that consistency between school and home continues to be a very important matter. More than anything, my experience as a volunteer with Yeshiva University’s Torah Leadership Seminar programs shaped my life, not just my career in two important ways. First, I was able to see the impact that one could have if you use your skills to frame an environment and work with people more talented than you. Second, through a mentor that I had in Dr. Abe Stern z”l who was the Director of Youth Services for Yeshiva University, I saw someone who was dispassionately passionate, and that informed my life.
3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
I think it is very important to have the opportunity to be with others who share your passion and your sense of direction. I think I can gain strength from them, and I hope I can give strength to them.

Richard M. Joel is the fourth president of Yeshiva University and the Bravmann Family University Professor. Appointed in 2003, his commitment has been to foster an environment that “ennobles and enables” the university community, with a renewed focus on academic excellence, enriched university life, competitive career and graduate-school placement, and a broadened commitment to the Jewish and wider communities. Throughout his career, he has stressed the importance of communal leadership and rich Jewish identity to ensure a Jewish future in America, in Israel, and around the world.
 Prior to his work at Yeshiva University, President Joel served as president and international director of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and was an assistant district attorney and deputy chief of appeals in Bronx, New York. He was also an associate dean and professor of law at Yeshiva’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. He received his B.A. and J.D. from New York University, where he was a Root-Tilden scholar. He and his wife, Esther, live in Riverdale. They have six children and four grandchildren.

1. Your presentation will be on the Positive Project — what exactly is the Positive Project? 
The Positive Project is an exciting new initiative that combines modern psychology, timeless Jewish ideals and innovative multimedia tools to encourage a collaborative and compassionate school culture. Many students assume that happiness and positivity are generated externally without realizing that a large majority of our mood is ours for the making. The Positive Project teaches the mechanics of happiness and wellbeing by utilizing evidence-based exercises and thought-provoking workshops. Happiness is an acquired skill that students can now learn for themselves rather than waiting for it to magically appear at the end of some imaginary rainbow. I spent a lot of my childhood and adolescence hoping to discover happiness and joy; now I know that these are not prizes to be won, but skills to be honed.

2. How has the proliferation of Social Media changed formal education and how has it affected building relationships with teens?
Social media provide a great way to meet students where their attention already is: on their own screens. This doesn't mean stalking them or patrolling their digital whereabouts; it means including them in innovative projects and encouraging their input and participation. Students are generally more defensive in formal school settings than they are on social media; it's as though we are visiting them on their own home court. Less confrontational and more collaborative, the digital arena provides an oasis for this more complimentary style of learning.

3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
The world of Jewish education finds itself at a fascinating crossroads. There seems to be a wide range of people carrying the torch of Jewish wisdom into the 21st century via all sorts of interesting and innovative avenues. I'm looking forward to collaborating with and learning from these various visionaries. Their passion is often contagious.

Doni Joszef is a cognitive psychotherapist practicing with adolescents and young adults in Cedarhurst. He is a member of the DRS Guidance Department, where he founded the "POSITIVE PROJECT," an innovative, cutting-edge initiative based on evidence based psychology to promote a school-wide culture of wellbeing. For more information, visit: http://www.deficitofattention.com/

    1. What is the goal of YouthCon?
    The goal of YouthCon is to get everyone in the same room to continue a conversation about informal Jewish education. No matter what organization, school, shul or youth group you belong to, there will be something for you to learn and gain at YouthCon. 

2. Has YouthCon changed since last year? 

Based on the feedback we received last year, we changed the format. We understood that people gained the most from networking so we’ve made the schedule far more fluid. We have 15-minute multi-media sessions so people have the opportunity to hear more speakers and meet with their fellow educators. This year we’ll also have a Service Center where one-on-one mentoring will be available. The Service Center will also be offering practical tips on how to maximize your website and improve your presence on social media networks. 
Personally, I’m really excited about Sparks, which is our version of TED Talks. Speakers will have six-minutes to give over the newest and most innovative ideas in Jewish education. 

3. What at you most looking forward to at YouthCon? 
I’m most looking forward to the the energy in the room. The excitement of walking in and finding 500-like-minded people in the same room that are going to have meaningful and thought-provoking conversations. 
Rina Emerson is the director of YouthCon and the Assistant Director of Institutional Advancement for the Orthodox Union.  For any questions about YouthCon contact Rina at emersonr@ou.org