CTeen will recognize the powerful impact of teen leaders by presenting the Yisroel Foundation Leadership Award to 8 teens under 18. Teens from around the world submitted nominations, and a group of CTeen alumni leaders will choose the finalists.
Adam Bandler, a senior in Marlboro High School in Marlboro, NJ, is hoping that May 23, 2021, will be a big day for him. As a nominee for the 8 Teens Under 18: Yisroel Foundation Leadership Awards from CTeen International, he’s eager to see all the work and leadership skills he’s exhibited over his years in high school recognized on a global level.
CTeen (Chabad Teen Network) is an initiative from Chabad Lubavitch that provides a nurturing environment fusing fun, friendship, humanitarian outreach, Jewish values, teachings, and traditions for teenagers across the globe. The Leadership Award award is for CTeen leaders who have demonstrated remarkable leadership in their own respective CTeen communities and throughout the international network.
The Yisroel Foundation has been a visionary partner from the very beginning, enabling CTeen to grow into the powerhouse it has become, sharing a vision of engaged Jewish youth and providing key funding for CTeen International.
From its inception just over a decade ago, the program has grown exponentially, engaging more than 100,000 teens and impacting them in a multitude of ways.
What has been the secret sauce for CTeen’s explosive growth?
The teenage leaders. What started out as a small group of fiercely committed teens working tirelessly to start new chapters, shepherd them to maturity, and bring even more peers into their ranks, is now a burgeoning circle numbering over 300.
The time has come to select the most outstanding of them and showcase their commitment and devotion to the world.
As Adam put it, “I’m so honored to be nominated, as it demonstrates how all the work I’ve put in over the years hasn’t gone unnoticed. Not only locally, but on an international level as well.”
“It’s been so gratifying to see these teen leaders step up to the plate,” said Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of CTeen International and Director of Merkos 302 – Chabad’s central office. “The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s vision was to empower every teen to actualize their infinite inner potential while cultivating a strong sense of mission, Jewish pride, and love of G‑d. These teen leaders will certainly inspire others to become like them, and they are most deserving of recognition.”
Adam’s journey to nomination passed through many other candidates, currently whittled down to 21 nominees. In the past, qualification for candidacy was relatively loose, and nominees would simply upload a short video making their case and get their friends and family to vote. A single male and female finalist were chosen and announced at the annual CTeen Shabbaton in New York.
This year, the path to gold is far more complex. Qualifications have tightened, and there are many more leaders to choose from.
“There are hundreds of CTeen leaders, and nominations poured in from all over the world,” explains Risa Mond, Director of Teen Leadership and Engagement. Candidates were nominated by peers, teachers, or the local chapter director. “It’s really exhilarating to see the power of youth, through the nominations themselves and also our Selection Committee.”
This youth-powered engine is reflected in the next part of the selection process, as the panel which was chosen to do so also stems from the CTeen community: ten experienced CTeen alumni leaders that comprise the ‘Selection Committee’ will select the eight finalists in advance of the award ceremony. The international office will be handing over the information on all the nominees without any names, so the selection will be completely objective.
“We initially deliberated who exactly should be the ones to select the final eight winners. After thinking about it, it became very obvious: let’s ask past CTeen leaders!” said Mond.
“CTeen is where I fell in love with Judaism and realized just how much I was missing without being heavily involved in my community,” said Sophia Beyda, currently a graduate student in Penn State and an alumnus of CTeen of Montgomery County. “I would do anything for CTeen—so I feel so privileged to be part of this exclusive panel.”
Beyda describes her own experience with CTeen and how she will draw from that to inform her selection process. “From my experience, there are a number of pillars to what CTeen represents. First of all, it’s very inclusive. As a teen leader, it’s so important to reach out to peers and let them know that Judaism provides a safe space where they can be vulnerable and really discover themselves. Judaism must also be very relatable, and real teen leaders are there to help their peers relate to their Judaism and see how it can help them in this transitional period of life.”
“It’s an honor to have such an esteemed panel to make the selection,” said Kotlarsky. “It’s every organization’s dream to have such engaged alumni, and we’re so proud to see this long-term involvement. These nominees will certainly carry on the proud work of changing the world.”
“There are so many different types of awards—for sports, doing well at school, the arts; you name it. It’s so great to see an award for these leaders who are really going above and beyond. They very much deserve it, as they are the model citizens of the next generation,” said Beyda.
During the weeks leading up to the event, to further engage the vast network of teens, CTeen International is producing short videos featuring the nominees, lending teens a window into their efforts and an understanding of what leadership really looks like. The videos will stream weekly on CTeen’s Instagram and website.
Bandler is a great example of such leadership skills: “I’m a pretty outgoing person, so I like to get people involved. If I sense that someone is feeling unwelcome or awkward in any way, I hope to solve it. I also use my social media platform to reach out to others.”
Beyond the peer-to-peer leadership qualities Bandler displays, he’s gratified to see many of his own personal initiatives taking off on a larger scale. “I’m always looking for new ways to make an impact. Before the pandemic hit, we started an initiative called ‘Linking Hearts’ that connects teens with senior residents in nursing homes to bring cheer, activities, and overall good vibes. What started as a project in our local chapter in Marlboro has now spread to other chapters, with many CTeen groups doing the same thing.”
With such a strong leadership resume under his belt dating all the way back to eighth grade, he may very well be a finalist.