Evan Segal, a current Wexner Heritage Member from Pittsburgh, is the Chairman of the Florence Melton Communiteen High School, a member of Hillel Board of Governors & Directors,  and active with the UJF Pittsburgh, Community Day School & AIPAC. He is also an Executive-in-Residence at the CMU Tepper Graduate School of Business. He can be reached at evanjsegal@aol.com 

One of the biggest issues confronting us today is Jewish Continuity. In order to address this critical problem, new ideas must be translated into effective, dynamic and meaningful programs. It is a time that calls for dreamers and leaders to rise up to meet this challenge. 

This week’s Parasha, Miketz, tells the story of Joseph, a true leader. Joseph is called upon to interpret Pharoah’s dreams: “And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying: It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (Gen. 41:16). J.H. Hertz comments on this verse: “an answer that will correspond to the needs of Pharaoh and his people. Hertz goes on to note that in the portion, “The interpretation of the dream is supplemented by the practical advice as to how the coming crisis should be met.”

Florence Melton, z”l, was a visionary leader, who, like Joseph, not only dreamed but knew how to turn dreams into reality. She was insightful in understanding Jewish community needs and the importance of Jewish education. Her vision, insight and passion led to the establishment of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School. She was especially sensitive to young people and recognized the critical need to engage teens through Jewish learning and shared experiences.  Her last great passion was the development of the Florence Melton Communiteen High School.

Imagine a day when you walk into a local JCC, Hillel, or college campus and see groups of teens from different backgrounds pouring over Jewish texts, debating issues of truth and honesty. Imagine a place where the best and brightest faculty facilitates discussions among the students, where students feel safe to express what’s on their minds. Imagine a time when we no longer bemoan the “Bar Mitzvah as the destination” in Jewish education, but celebrate the numbers of teens who are willing to devote 100 hours to serious Jewish study during their high school years.

It’s not a crazy dream.  In fact, it is happening today—in Chicago, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Sarasota—where close to 250 teenagers study in the Florence Melton Communiteen High School. It’s the first step in building a world class, coordinated system for teen education and engagement that includes any and all who wish to join us at the table. Communiteen has the potential to be the next “big idea” in creating the next generation of active, involved community leaders. 

The vision begins with the two-year Communiteen course of study that engages students in exploring their Jewish identity using Jewish sources to discuss family history, life issues and their personal relationship with the Jewish people.  It was Florence Melton’s dream to re-engage the masses of students for whom Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies are the destination in their Jewish education.

Building upon her entrepreneurial experience, Florence Melton began the development of Communiteen with research. Focus groups had shown what teens were looking for in extra-curricular and Jewish education experiences.  The message came back loud and clear—teens wanted something fundamentally different from their religious school experience.  They wanted thoughtful, current, teen-centered curriculum that empowers them to develop their own personal Jewish philosophy and live Jewish lives; experienced faculty that are role models; a pressure-free environment without tests and homework; and an opportunity to meet and socialize with students from other schools and synagogues. 

Communiteen schools currently operate in four cities. As we work to open schools across the country, we are thinking about the next set of dreams.  Can you imagine a day when colleges and universities across North America identify Communiteen as one of the “wow factors” they recognize when they review applications?  Or a day when we are truly “linking the silos” by convening outstanding Jewish teen programs under one collaborative umbrella?  Can you imagine a day where students move seamlessly from Jewish community involvement as teens, to being engaged students on the college campus, and then, ultimately, becoming active in Jewish community wherever their jobs may take them?

Building on this tradition, we are at the beginning stages of developing this vision. The professional and volunteer alumni leaders of the Wexner Foundation programs can play an important role in the growth and development of Melton Communiteen.  We invite you to take the lead in opening Communiteen schools in local communities.  Together, we can help shape the next generation of Jews.

For additional information, please contact Evan Segal, National Chair at evanjsegal@aol.com, or Ilene Cohen, National Director, at icohen@ajlpittsburgh.org, phone 412 521-1101 x3206.