My Top 4 Recent YA Reading


Here are four that I’ve really enjoyed – 1, 3, and 4 are single books.  2 is a series.

1) Divergent by Veronica Roth:  I just finished Divergent.  Totally captivated.  It mirrors the structure of so many other recent YA novels – teenage female heroine, post-apocalyptic-dystopian society, tattoos, piercings, violence, and a struggle for identity in the midst of holding strong while the world stands on the edge of falling apart.  Divergent also stands apart in its particular vision of how the new reality is structured, the way in which Veronica Roth manages to weave a very real struggle with identity, a fully thought out world, and major internal and external conflict into a compelling, real story.

2) The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones; City of Ashes; City of Glass by Cassandra Clare: The Mortal Instrument series is a fun, sometimes intense, series that uses the world of magic and magical creatures to create a classic story about good vs. evil, family, in-groups and out-groups, a sense of belonging, honor, creativity, class, love, and a bit of war.

3) Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher:  Clay Jensen arrives home after high school and finds a package waiting for him.  A set of cassette tapes sit inside.  He plays the first, which features Hannah Baker, a classmate who recently committed suicide, announcing to Clay that he’s one of thirteen people who will receive this set of cassettes, which explain why she killed herself. While the book shares Hannah’s perspective, we also watch and listen to Clay as he listens to the tapes.  His anger, frustration, confusion, and even disappointment in Hannah as he listens provide a strong counter-point to Hannah’s narration.  *If you or someone you know is in trouble or considering suicide please, call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

4) Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan: What can I say, it’s serious and fun, addresses real teen and life issues, but keeps from becoming maudlin.  It’s clear that the two authors had some goofy moments creating scenes, personalities, and late night IM exchanges between characters.  At the same time, the characters are multi-dimensional and grow in a manner that feels real. The story takes place in a the ‘real’ world, but also pushes us to suspend disbelief, kicking back and enjoying the world in which we’re traveling.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

20 Really Good Books for Youth Workers – A Mix

What links all the books below together?  Each of the books below in some way changed how I understood my work or life in a fundamental way, provided an invaluable skill, tool, or piece of knowledge, or proved to be incredibly insightful regarding how to live, teach or work.  They all apply to informal or formal educational settings, experiential education, and very often to life in general as well.  I haven’t rated them, though at some point down the line I may.  I’d love your thoughts.  Please, post below or email me. Enjoy.


How To Talk So Kids Can Learn by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish – the ideas in this book are straightforward, immediately implementable and effective.  While the concepts and techniques they present are largely focused on kids and the framework is a classroom, I have used all of the techniques and taught many of them across formal and informal settings & with a variety of ages. The tools in this book instantly changed how I interacted with just about everyone and with young people, in particular.

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina – Just a great book about how our brains work and concepts related to teaching and memory that when used can help us as individual learners or as teachers sharing information.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath – Probably the best book I’ve read related to making ideas sticky and presentations memorable.  While it is not comprehensive, it is focused on core, useful ideas.

Check out the Love and Logic books.  I’d say that Teaching with Love & Logic: Taking Control of the Classroom by Jim Fay and David Funk is probably the most applicable to our work – The Love and Logic approach as shared in this book provides tools for managing a classroom, working with kids of any age, etc.  The overall concepts work really well when you are with a group or an individual over time.  Many of the specific techniques can be used even in new situations. You can visit Jim Fay’s Amazon Page for many more Love and Logic resources. David Funk’s Amazon Page has two additional books related to Love and Logic with special needs children.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck – The core concept of this book – the power of a growth mindset – is one of the most important I’ve come across in a long time.  I’m also struck by the surprising ways in which it can potentially play out in our settings, particularly those related to praise and goal setting.  This applies equally to adults and children, informal and formal settings, and the role of educator or supervisor.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t by Jim Collins – While some of what Jim Collins and his team found has become cliche (in part because of the incredible success of the book and the proliferation of the terminology Collins used), the core ideas are worth considering deeply, especially if you read this and follow up with Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great by Jim Collins, a short and impactful translation to the non-profit world.

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer – A really fun book about how we make decisions.  His take on NFL quarterbacks is worth the read alone AND Lehrer frames counter-intuitive ideas regarding decision-making with clarity and applicability.

The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life by Tal Ben-Shahar – Whether you read this for yourself, for the young people with whom you work, or both, Ben-Shahar’s story, practical ideas, and exercises provides a third way between “perfection” and “good enough”.  Seeking the optimal rather than perfection has power to improve our lives and the lives of the young people with whom we work.  Wow.

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman – An amazing compendium of different recent, mind-shifting ideas about children.  From the “right” kind of praise to better understandings about only-children, this book is filled with great information worth considering.

Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, Revised 25th Anniversary Edition by William Bridges – We so rarely do transitions well in the world of youth.  We’re really great at moments in time – graduations, b’nai mitzvah, etc., but we rarely do the transition from before the event to after the event well.  Whether you are going through a transition in your life or you are looking to make transitions work better in your work, this is a worthwhile read.

The Soul of Education: Helping Students Find Connection, Compassion, and Character at School by Rachael Kessler – Just a really cool book.  I think the title captures the core ideas.

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box by Arbinger Institute – This was recommended to me by a staff member at Kutz camp.  He had read it in a business class and thought that it was incredible.  I totally agree.  I think about the book often as I get stuck in my boxes, catch myself and gradually work my way out.  A classic business book which focuses in the realm of business, it’s really a book about personal growth, the inter-connectedness of life, and our relationships with others.

The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel – A modern classic on parenting.  Mogel’s vision for raising self-reliant children is both deeply loving and incredibly strong.  She helps bring focus to what many youth professionals feel and believe instinctively.  She also provides tools for us to grow in our professional and personal roles.

The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-by-Day Guide to Ethical Living by Joseph Telushkin – Telushkin brings Jewish values to life, providing stories, vignettes, Jewish text, and a thoughtful interpretation of Jewish ethics to guide just about anyone in how to approach very real every-day situations, relationships, and internal struggles.  I love this book.

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (James H. Silberman Books) by Norman Doidge – I almost didn’t include this one, but I just had too.  This book has deeply changed how I understand learning, our ability to grow as human beings at any age, and my responsibility to the people around me tap into our deep ability to flex our brains.  Brain Plasticity and the ability of the brain to make huge change may no longer be the wow-idea that it was ten years ago, but the ways in which this concept plays out in our lives and world continues to amaze me.  Doidge does a terrific job explaining the science and the practical, non-scientific elements with stories, metaphor, and clear entertaining prose.

The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything by Steven M.R. Covey – I’m still working to develop my trustworthiness.  Covey’s take on trust helped me understand that there are different types of trust and that both are important.  While I am pretty good with one type of trust, the other continues to be a struggle.  Where are you when it comes to the different types of trust?  Do you score really high on one, but miss the mark on the other?  How can you continue to grow in ways that allow others to deeply and fully trust you?  An important read.

Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships by Daniel Goleman – Wonderful insights into how we operate socially, how what we are born with and what we learn interact in social settings, and how we can help ourselves and others become more socially intelligent.

A Couple of Patrick Lencioni’s Books – I really like virtually all of Patrick Lencioni’s books, but the two I’ve listed here have been the most impactful on my work and are the two I feel the most confident in recommending.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (J-B Lencioni Series) by Patrick Lencioni –   The Five Dysfunctions of a team and the strategies to overcome those dysfunctions have been invaluable and, while I still have a long way to go, I’ve made strides and better understand where and how to focus.

Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable…About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business (J-B Lencioni Series) by Patrick Lencioni – Death by Meeting is one of those books that is really simple, but forever changes how I approach and understand something as basic as a meeting.  Since reading the book, I believe that meetings I’ve run are more productive, focused, meaningful and worthwhile. I’ve adapted the ideas that Lencioni shares while sticking with his core ideas.  I’ll never see meetings the same again.

*By the way – If you’re looking for something more specific or that fits particularly well with your style, please let me know and I’ll see what I have.  More lists to come.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Invitation to Read and Discuss “A Faith of Their Own”

Interested in learning more about adolescent faith development in the USA?  This new book from the National Study of Youth and Religion, promises to provide a insight based on a three year study following teenagers to investigate development of faith over time.

I’m planning to read A Faith of Their Own: Stability and Change in the Religiosity of America’s Adolescents and would love to find time in-person or via Skype to talk, process and consider the book with an amazing group of people…  youth professionals, Jewish professionals, teens, college students, clergy, educators, parents and so on.  I’d even find time to have a variety of conversations.

Want to join me in conversation?

I hope to have a sign-up form soon for a series of conversations.  In the meantime, contact me here.  Make sure to include your name, why you’d like to get involved, best time of day for you to join a conversation, and your best contact information.  *Please, note that if you are under 13 years old you must participate with a parent and have parental permission to contact me.


Posted in Education, faith development, Uncategorized, Youth | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Looking for Somewhere to Go for Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur in NYC?

Looking for somewhere to go for High Holy Days 2011/5772?

Here are some ideas, suggestions, etc. for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  Some include meals, break fast, programs, and more along with service:

Please, note that the information below is gathered as a service. Please, visit the specific website, contact the synagogue or organization, etc. to make sure that the information is accurate.

Good Luck and Shana Tova.

A few notes:

  • Wherever you’re thinking of going, it’s worth calling ahead/registering ahead to make sure there’s space, etc.
  • Students are free just about everywhere.
  • If you belong to a synagogue outside of Manhattan, most synagogues will honor that membership if you have a letter/email from your home congregation.
  • In many cases, while first day services have a cost, second day Rosh Hashana are open to the community and free.
  • There are a few free choices as well.

 Places to go for High Holy Day Services:

There is a list of virtually all available High Holy Day Services offered in the five boroughs here:  The list shows denomination, cost, etc. Most on the Upper West Side have a cost involved, unless you are a student.

*Free Services that look pretty great: – I know names of most of the rabbis involved, though I only know them in passing. I also suspect that the services are aimed towards an under-35 crowd. – Community focused with mostly conservative clergy.

*Totally worth considering!
92 Y Tribeca – there’s a cost, but Rabbi Dan Ain is pretty great and the services and programs are aimed at 20’s and 30’s. – not sure of Dan’s denomination, but it’ll be pretty progressive and open.

Most Hillels offer services that are open to the community.  Check the specific Hillel websites.  Columbia/Barnard Hillel might be a good bet.  I think there’s a $100 suggested donation. Reform and Conservative services are offered.

Hope that helps.  Let me know if you need more information or have questions. You can contact me here. I may not be able to respond right away for the next couple of weeks, but I’ll try.

Shana Tova u’Metukah,


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Two Powerful Ideas I Learned My First Year as Staff at Camp

Do you remember your first summer as camp staff?  Your first staff week?  The interview with the assistant director or director of camp? Was Summer 2011 your first summer on staff?  I remember that first summer, much of staff week, and meeting with Jeff Metz for my interview.

I walked into camp, eighteen years-old, no idea that I’d love camp as much as it turns out I did.  I fuzzily recall sitting in front of the nature center as the first get-to-know-you session took off.  I wondered with just about everyone else which unit I’d be assigned to, whether I’d be working on the waterfront, and what it’d be like to learn from Lynn Levin who’d just introduced herself as responsible for the Junior Counselors of which I was one.

I also remember learning during that week and throughout the summer. I’m still struck by how foundational that first summer was in how I approach working with youth and with people in general.  I learned a ton in subsequent summers, but that first summer really stuck.  I learned so much, but am just sharing two stories today: One about Modeling and one about  Positive Reinforcement.  Here goes…

I learned about modeling in the dining hall the first day, the first meal of staff week during my first summer as staff at Camp Tamarack on Blaine Lake in Brighton, MI.  It was all couched in “hand raising.”  Jeff Metz, the camp director and an extraordinary ‘Simon’ in Simon Says, explained that, “We are models.  Campers do what we do…” He continued with a shtick about how when the hand goes up in the front of the room, we needed to put our hands up and stop talking. And then we practiced. It sounds silly, but we talked and joked for about twenty seconds and when Jeff’s hand went up, we were immediately silent with hands in the air. I’ve replicated that moment with kids and staff many times at Tamarack and elsewhere, but the basic philosophy associated with raising our hands and stopping talking has stuck with me in other ways as well.  Kids do what we do.  People do what we do far more powerfully than what we say, just like in a super-competitive game of Simon Says. I’m obsessed.

I’m thankful for Positive Reinforcement.  Changed how I thought about my ability to learn about how to work successfully with campers. My story doesn’t start well… I was staff in the fifth grade boys unit at camp and occasionally we would have buffet lunches with just our unit in the lodge.  One day during lunch in the lodge two boys were pushing in the buffet line.  I stopped the pushing and sent them to the end of the line.  One boy, who probably had started the skirmish, was defiant and a took me a bit to get him to the end of the line.  The other boy, a kid who genuinely tried to follow the rules, ran off crying.  I spent lunch with him comforting him and cajoling him back to the lodge.  That day at menucha (rest period) we had an in-service about positive reinforcement. We learned that used well, it’s not just complimenting or saying encouraging words, but reinforcing positive behavior and ignoring negative (of course, dangerous behavior or bullying are not ignored and most likely dealt with using other skills). Campers want our attention, I learned, and we have a choice whether we place that attention on the positive or on the negative.  Whichever behavior we pay attention to is reinforced for everyone in the group. So….

The next day at lunch two different boys were pushing in the same place in the buffet line. This time I walked to the six kids behind them in line and said, “Thanks so much for standing in line like you’re supposed to,” and I moved those six in front of the two kids who had been pushing (Please note, I would have used a different technique or skill if it was a more dangerous situation). The six campers felt great.  The two campers who had been pushing stopped.  I went on with my day.  Positive Reinforcement can be used in getting a room quiet, calming a group after basketball, reinforcing teamwork in soccer, or encouraging clean up in arts.  Ignore the negative.  Focus on the positive.  Amazing.

Thanks Camp Tamarack, and Jeff, and Lynn.  I’ll share more that I learned from my first year at camp soon. It’s still in my head and I still play a lot ofSimon Says.  Still to come: Campers First (most of the time), Let campers do all they can do, The power of teaching teens child development and more.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Three More Really Good Experiential Education Ideas

Yep…  Three more:

1) Experience + Learner = Experiential Learning.  Without an educator who can provide focused reflection, the learner can learn, but the experience will rarely truly be experiential education.  Therefore…

2) Experience + Learner + Educator = Experiential Education.   The Educator is an essential component of experiential education.  The educator helps focus reflection, provides different lenses through which to understand an experience, and serves as a coach in the educational process.  Even elite athletes have coaches who continually help them focus intentionally on each experience. And, therefore…

3) Educators need training in how to serve as coaches in our educational settings.  They need the tools to make the choice between lecture, mentoring and coaching.  Experiential education coaching is teachable and with a few tools…  transformative.

Consider checking out:

The Association for Experiential Education:

The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education:

The Institute for Informal Jewish Education:



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Yes, There is a Right Kind of Praise

I’m obsessed.  Kind of crazy to think that there’s a right kind of praise, especially when I consider that I prefer non-judgmental language ala How To Talk So Kids Can Learn
and that I tend to push against “right” and “should” and dogma in general.  Nevertheless, my obsession with Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
and the idea that fostering a growth mindset has incredible benefits, has led me to the right kind of praise.  It makes sense – check out this short video from Carol Dweck that better explains praise and the possibility that praising effort, rather than talent or intelligence, has power to positively impact how children learn and grow.  While the video doesn’t explore the power of this idea for adults, the concept is applicable with individuals of any age.  Enjoy!





Posted in Education, Experiential Education, Growth Mindset, Youth | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Really Good Experiential Education Ideas

In no particular order…

Number One: Experience+Process+Understanding+Application=Experiential Learning. IN OTHER WORDS Experience without processing and reflection is just experience, not experiential education. In order for experience to become more than just a moment in time, we must go through a process that allows us to reflect on the experience, learn from the experience, understanding the application to our broader world, and apply our learning to future experiences.

Number Two: The best experiential educators don’t just wing-it, they plan and learn for whatever comes their way. YOU can learn too. Those camp counselors, teachers, or youth workers who seem to be the most spontaneous in the moment tend to have learned games, stories, dances, or texts.  Those educators who seem to always know what to do have learned about, trained for, experienced, or thought through different scenarios.

Number Three: Experiential Education is not limited to a particular setting.  Experiential Education can be used anywhere at virtually any time. Making meaning from experience can take place in a classroom, at home, playing sports, in nature, at camp or in a place of worship.  However, it doesn’t just happen, we need to take the time for reflection and process.


Consider checking out:

The Association for Experiential Education:

The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education:

The Institute for Informal Jewish Education:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Same Sex Ketubot – A List

I have not evaluated or used the following sites/stores, except as indicated below.  The list just aims to provide links to a number of places where same-sex ketubot are available. As you look through the sites below, some explicitly have pages for same-sex partners. Others include same-sex partners in the general site, but provide ‘Commitment texts’ or ‘Commitment Ketubah Texts’ that are explicitly same-sex ketubot. Oftentimes, if you prefer the text from one of the other text choices, artists will be willing to change the necessary language. In no particular order… enjoy:

I will continue to add to this list.

Do you have sites to recommend? Please, comment below or send me an email.


Posted in Ketubah, LGBT, marriage, Same-Sex Marriage | Leave a comment

The Most Important Idea Related to Youth Work in Ten Years

Growth Mindset (as opposed to fixed mindset) is a simple, but world changing idea for anyone involved with youthwork.  The reality is that it’s no less applicable to the world of sports, business, family, relationships, love, religion, or counseling.  The core ideas are: 1) Individuals with a growth mindset believe that anyone can change – intelligence, athletic ability, success with relationships, etc.  They believe that we are not forever stuck with the skills we currently have.  Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that we either have talent, intelligence, and skill or we don’t.  It’s not changeable.  2) Individuals of any age who have or develop a growth mindset are happier, more successful, better able to cope with upset, and are better able to learn from mistakes or failure. 3) Growth Mindset is teachable/learnable.

WOW!  The book Mindset by Carol Dweck thoughtfully and entertainingly explains these core ideas, explains how mindset operates in a wide range of arenas, AND explains in detail, including specific examples and language, how we can begin to use this tool in our lives, our classrooms, our youth groups, our camps, our families, and our relationships.

Please, check it out.

I will have a study guide with Jewish Texts posted by the end of August.  Check back or sign up for my email newsletter for more information.

To learn More at the Mindset website click here.

Buy the Book:

Posted in Education, Experiential Education, Growth Mindset, psychology, Uncategorized, Youth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment