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.


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Youth con is doing a great work actually. There is a problem with youth. They will be having a lot of talent and energy but if they are not provided with proper guidance they will utilize them in wrong ways. If an agency tries to figure out the best of the youth it is so much appreciable.

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