Review: Dreaming Bigger

Dreaming Bigger: Jewish Leadership for Teens

by Dr. Erica Brown and Rabbi Dr. Benji Levy, illustrated by Gal Weisman and Shlomo Blass

Behrman House, 2022

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Evonne Marzouk

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Today’s teens are actively involved in addressing the most important challenges of our time, and many Jewish teens are engaged in a wide variety of campaigns and causes, including social justice, the environment, supporting diversity and inclusion, combating antisemitism, supporting Israel, and much more. Therefore, Brown and Levy’s new book, Dreaming Bigger: Jewish Leadership for Teens is a welcome addition to the Jewish Young Adult non-fiction landscape. 

Dreaming Bigger is structured around Hillel’s famous maxim, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” In the "Leading Yourself" section, teens will find strategies to address practical issues such as when to say yes and when to say no, time and stress management, and how to develop a personal mission statement. Readers are encouraged to identify their personal goals and values so they can live from them more authentically. In the "Leading Others" section there is helpful guidance about how to work within teams, listening to others, having difficult conversations, and even a section on effective fundraising. There is specific advice about how to respond empathetically to a friend dealing with a difficult situation, and the value that can be found “outside of one’s comfort zone.” In the "Leading in Community" section, teens learn about effective (and ineffective) use of technology, how to address bullying, and specific, sensitively presented views about how to deal with topics such as antisemitism and Israel.

This book is well written for its intended teen audience. The chapters are short and to the point, with fun and attractive graphics to break up the text. Some of the best parts of the book are the meaningful examples of real Jewish teens acting as leaders in the world. Chapters also include “Jewish Bright Spots,” linkages to Jewish wisdom, and “Inner workouts” to help readers apply what they are learning to real life situations. More importantly, the information shared is a truly valuable foundation for Jewish teens who are leading or would like to lead. 

As the authors explain, “When we were teens, we learned to organize, recruit, speak publicly, raise money, manage our time, and raise awareness of important issues.” As they grew into adult and professional lives, they often found themselves working with other leaders who had also developed their skills beginning with teen leadership. (Speaking for myself, some of my most formative leadership experiences were also as a Jewish teen leader, so I have personally experienced and observed the power of supporting young Jewish leaders at this transformational moment in life.)

This book, then, is not only for teens but for the future leaders of the Jewish community and the world. I highly recommend it for consideration for the Sydney Taylor Book Award, and I also recommend it as a gift to every teen leader you know.

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Reviewer Evonne Marzouk is author of the Jewish novel The Prophetess and has spoken to schools, Bat Mitzvah programs, synagogues and book clubs about the book’s Jewish lessons. Evonne founded the Jewish environmental organization Canfei Nesharim and co-edited Uplifting People and Planet: Eighteen Essential Jewish Lessons on the Environment. She recently launched the new free printable Heroine’s Journal: A Jewish Mystical Journey of Growing into Your Gifts.