CAJE Chair Spotlight Series: Shelley Niceley Groff, Chair of the Teen Department Committee

Posted on 07/27/2020 @ 08:00 AM

Tags: Teen Education & Engagement

Shelley Niceley Groff has always identified as strongly Jewish. Born and raised in Miami, Shelley was not connected to a synagogue or other Jewish organization early on and saw herself as “unaffiliated and unengaged” when she was younger. Even though she did not regularly attend organized Jewish gatherings, she celebrated some holidays and spent a few summers attending a congregational day camp. There, she developed a love for the Hebrew language and Jewish songs.

Once married, it became important for her and her husband, Jon, to join a synagogue in which to raise their two children, Aaron and Emily, who are now adults . As a family, they found their home at Temple Beth Sholom on Miami Beach. Here, Shelley dove deeply into her Judaism. She began to study Hebrew and learn and became a Bat Mitzvah at age 37.

It was important to Shelley to go through the ritual of becoming a Bat Mitzvah -- something she did not do as a teen. She wanted to receive the education and knowledge, learn the liturgy, and strengthen her connection to Jewish peoplehood. Most importantly, Shelley wanted to model the value of becoming a Bat Mitzvah for her (then) young children.

Today, Shelley is a full-time lay leader, dedicating her time, energy, and expertise to helping enhance Jewish education and engagement on the local and national levels. 

Currently, Shelley holds the position of Vice Chair of the North American Board of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and works directly on all of the URJ’s youth experiences, including camps, NFTY, Israel programs, and so forth. In addition, she serves on the Executive Committee of the Women of Reform Judaism, on the board of the Foundation for Jewish Camp and on the Executive Committee of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Closer to home, Shelley is a dedicated volunteer on the Executive Committee of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation where she also co-chairs the Agency Support Committee. She was past chair of Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council, a past chair of Jewish Community Services of South Florida and past president of Temple Beth Sholom. She has an abiding belief in interreligious and interethnic dialogue, and thus is a co-founder of the Miami chapter of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom and a participant on AJC’s Muslim Jewish Advisory Council.

What about Jewish education/the Teen Department motivated you to take this position of leadership?

It might be a cliche to say this, but in addition to seeing teens as the leaders of our tomorrow, it is important to also recognize them as leaders today. There is so much we can learn from teens and much we can do to help nurture and support them.

Teen engagement is important because a lot of what is happening in the teen space is trying to bring experiential education together with Judaism in ways that support teens to find fulfillment. These experiences nurture teens so they can be their most authentic selves and learn lessons that can be translated throughout their lives.  And I personally saw the profound impact of Jewish camp, NFTY, and teen Israel experiences on my two children, and want every young Jew to have those enriching experiences.

Experiential education can be so impactful for teens’ identity development. Experiences such as NFTY, Congregation-based fellowships, Diller, MOTL, Jewish camping, are all really important programs that teach so much more than Jewish values. They offer immersive learning that takes place in spaces where teens experience the importance of connecting to our Jewish community and learn skill sets that support them to become successful leaders as well as more engaged, educated, active Jewish adults.

The merging of experiential learning and teen engagement fires me up about this work, which I see as a gift to be doing. I try to take what I learn at the national level and bring it here to CAJE to inform what we are doing and vice versa.   I have the privilege to support the professionals working on both the national and local landscape who facilitate the Jewish journey of teens -- transforming our community and ultimately, helping to create a world of wholeness, justice, and compassion. 

What do you hope to achieve in your time as Chair?

My main goal is to be a thought partner and supporter of the great work that the CAJE Teen Department is doing by encouraging and inspiring innovation in teen engagement. During my time as Chair, I have been proud to support some of the great innovations from the teen department.

Most impactful is the development of CAJE’s Kavanah Coaching program, which trains professionals working with teens to become coaches. The training supports the professionals on their own journeys so they can be better role models for teens. Additionally, the ARC grant process funded by the Greater Miami Jewish Federation provides our local organizations with funding and mentorship so they can be more innovative in engaging our community’s teens.

I want to continue to support this work in the community by engaging with other lay leaders who believe in activating young Jews and promoting innovation. In doing so, we can help teens to find fulfillment and meaning in their lives now and into the future so they stay connected to Jewish community.

What 1-2 things would you like our readers to know about Jewish education/CAJE’s Teen Department?

We’ve got real expertise here at CAJE. The CAJE staff is always learning, seeking to further their own knowledge, looking at the newest research and trends, and finding ways to bring that learning to other professionals in the community.

I feel proud that CAJE professionals practice what they preach. They believe in education and they themselves are constantly learning in order to elevate the work being done
in the community. As such, the professionals at CAJE are a tremendous resource for the community. I want people to be aware of this, so that you can lean on this community agency and benefit from the expertise of its professionals.