Bergenfield—Jordan Silvestri barely has a voice left, having coordinated and led lively and inspirational youth programming throughout Sukkot and Simchat Torah, but he still can’t hide the energy he brings to his role as youth director for Bergenfield’s Congregation Ohr HaTorah. Though Jordan and his wife Eileen were originally brought on board to implement “groups” over Shabbat, they have quickly brought many other ideas to their role.
When the Silvestris first formed groups in Ohr HaTorah, they identified children in the current youth makeup that had a uniquely different set of needs. “This did not mean that they couldn’t participate in groups,” Silvestri explained, “but that the typical environment was not suitable and we had to bring something with more flexibility.” The Silvestris are imminently qualified to spearhead this effort. Eileen works as a teacher’s assistant at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, providing support on a group level, and one-on-one when needed. Silvestri is the current director of SINAI’s program at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, and prior to that worked at Ohel Children’s Services.
Always receptive to suggestions from the kehilla, the Silvestris were fielding requests to bring more opportunities for chesed to the youth groups in the shul, for instance, pre-Purim visits to Care One. Silvestri had come to know the staff of New Jersey Yachad, and previously coordinated a joint Ohr HaTorah-Yachad Chanukah event. “This event made me realize that we need to plant the idea for our kids that they know what it means to be part of an inclusive community,” said Silvestri.
Working with the director of Yachad New Jersey, Chani Herrmann, a partnership between Ohr HaTorah and Yachad will utilize the Yachad staff and leadership. Coordinated by New Jersey Yachad’s Director of Community Engagement Elinor Solomon, the training will help educate the group leaders and help them understand the dynamics that are part of an inclusive environment. “We are looking forward to the multiple opportunities over the coming year for Ohr HaTorah families to join us at the Yachad programming,” said Herrmann. “Partnering with Junior Yachad members gives our shul’s youth the chance to connect, either as peers or as mentors,” Silvestri explained. “They are growing up in a ‘me’ world where selfies take center stage. This will allow them to realize how much they can do and how much they have to give if their eyes are open.
Herrmann and Silvestri formed a strong relationship over the past two years, being in the same building and working toward similar goals surrounding inclusion. Yachad’s motto is “Because everyone belongs,” and Herrmann knows that by Yachad providing training to the youth leaders at an early point in their interactions this will continue to help make the shul more inclusive. “Not only do we strive to make the environment ideal for the child, but for the group leaders and the shadow as well,” Silvestri said, emphasizing the fact that the groups are open to anyone looking for an inclusive Shabbat group.
“This is what Yachad does on a global level,” explained Herrmann, “and nothing is more gratifying than to have someone from our own community reach out on their own, step up and say that they also believe in this mission, and ask us to help make it happen further in their own shul.” The opportunity is not just for the joint events, but to help train young people who are group leaders, teach them sensitivity, appropriate language and expectations. “Ohr HaTorah is already a partner with Yachad in so many ways,” said Herrmann. “We are already joined with them honoring Ari and Deena Katz, active members of Ohr HaTorah, at our upcoming dinner. This is just one part of many interactions.”
Geared toward grades 1-8, activities will be planned every four to six weeks, depending on holidays and the calendar, and will allow an opportunity for the youth members to connect with families in the surrounding areas.
Stay tuned for more exciting details about this ongoing partnership between Yachad and Congregation Ohr HaTorah. For information about becoming a part of the inclusive Shabbat groups, email
To contact Yachad call 201-833-1349 or email [email protected].
By Jenny Gans