As 2010 draws to a close and in advance of our URJ North American Board meeting this weekend, we wanted to take an opportunity to update you on news from the URJ. The Board will look ahead to 2011 and beyond on topics impacting Reform congregations and the larger Reform Movement.
Campaign for Teen Engagement As Rabbi Yoffie mentioned at the last Board meeting in June, he will dedicate much of his energies over the next two years to strengthening our commitment to teen engagement. To that end, there are a number of initiatives that will formally kick off this week. See below for the details of the Campaign and how your congregation can be involved.
Taskforce on Early Childhood Education Funding URJ Chairman Peter Weidhorn will announce a taskforce comprised of leaders with expertise in Jewish education, education public policy and church-state law to examine the challenges and opportunities of universal Pre-K funding and develop recommendations for the very real issues that our synagogues face.
Reform Movement Think Tank At the first of four public meetings to imagine the future of the Reform Movement, representatives from URJ, CCAR and HUC-JIR convened in Los Angeles to discuss how technology impacts community building and affiliation. The board will deliberate about the items raised during the lively discussion. The next public Think Tank meeting will take place on April 10 at HUC Cincinnati and via webcast.
Scheidt Seminar, March 24-27, 2011 Registration is now open for the 2011 Scheidt Seminar. This highly regarded training program is an essential experience for all congregational presidents and presidents-elect.
Thank you for your attention to these matters.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie President
Peter J. Weidhorn Chairman
Campaign for Teen Engagement
Imagine if you could send a personalized note to each b'nei mitzvah family in your congregation with the following message:
"I understand that your son/daughter is about to become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Mazal Tov! As a leader in our congregation, I am asking for your teen to make a commitment to continue his/her Jewish education. I hope you would agree that high school is a critical period in forming an identity, and we want him/her to make sacred choices as a Jewish teen. Our congregation has wonderful opportunities for your teen to continue his/her Jewish learning, build Jewish relationships, and explore his/her Jewish connections. Please make every effort to encourage him/her to become involved and for you to become involved as a parent. You will never regret it, and neither will your teen."
The URJ's Campaign for Teen Engagement is a collaborative effort to address and redress the deep-seated problem of engaging teens and their families in Jewish learning and living. There are already a few exceptional congregations that have reached 80%+ teen engagement through high school and beyond. In 10 years, we hope to make what is now the exception into the norm. If we are successful, we will have changed the landscape of North American Jewish life. This type of seismic, cultural change will be neither easy nor free, but it will be a worthy long-term investment. We are prepared to work in coalition with every willing partner in the Reform Movement and beyond to translate Jewish teen engagement from theory into practice.
One vitally important aspect of this effort will be a major commitment to rethink and strengthen all aspects of our NFTY program. These efforts have already begun. At the same time, of course, NFTY, on the local and North American level, is one component of a broader commitment to our youth, and our intention is to integrate and enrich every dimension of our youth engagement work.
We would like to invite you, the congregations of our Movement, to find a way to join in our campaign. Several opportunities and strategies for teen engagement exist now or are under development. Visit the URJ website at urj.org/teen for additional details about the following opportunities available:
Open to all URJ Congregations:
Download the new Planning Guide for Teen Engagement, designed to help congregations assess their unique strengths and challenges and begin to set goals for stronger recruitment and involvement of teens beyond b'nei mitzvah. The Union's Education and Youth Specialists are available to support congregations in use of these materials. Available December 2010.
Access and contribute to a catalogue of best practices in Teen Engagement, an on-line, interactive program bank that will be open to any congregation to share what synagogues are doing with and for teens that they believe is potentially adaptable for other congregations. Available March 2011.
Participate in and support the development of a new affiliate of the URJ dedicated to Youth Professionals. Designate anyone on your congregational staff who has the responsibility for engaging teens to be part of this groundbreaking effort. (Available now!)
Send your teens to NFTY Convention and your youth professionals to Youth Workers Conference, both taking place February 18-21, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. Registration is already open! More information can be found at nfty.org/convention.
Congregational volunteer leaders and professionals are all invited to attend the Education Summit, December 14-16, 2011, outside Washington, DC. The Summit, a track of the URJ Biennial Convention, will include large and small group sessions dedicated to Teen Engagement successes, learnings, and a campaign platform for congregations to sign onto dedicating their efforts to maximize teen engagement with the 2020 vision of engaging in Jewish life a majority of b'nei/b'not mitzvah through high school and beyond.
For a limited number of congregations:
CHAI 8 is an experimental curricular resource for 8th grade students that allows for co-creation by the teacher and the students. Piloting process to begin December 2010 for up to 6 congregations per district.
Community Organizing Pilots Starting in fall 2010, Just Congregations, the Reform Movement initiative to engage synagogues in local community organizing, began work with seven diverse pilot congregations. Pilots use the tools of community organizing to transform the culture of family commitment to and ownership of Jewish living and learning. Pilots will share their experiences and learnings at the URJ Biennial in December 2011.
Teen Philanthropy Project Help to create a model for Jewish teen philanthropy for your 9th-10th graders by partnering with the URJ and the Jewish Teen Funders Network in creating a two-year plan & curriculum to mentor and induct teens into purposeful acts of tzedakah. Piloting process to begin January 2011 for up to 3 congregations per district.
Personal Teen Portfolios Partner with other congregations in creating a system for an individualized portfolio approach to Jewish teen engagement in your congregation. Piloting process to begin January 2011 for up to three congregations per district.
For congregations in the New York Area region (NAR), Garden Empire region (GER) and Southern California region (SoCal) of NFTY, connect with your NFTY Youth Programs Manager whose responsibilities include, in addition to normative NFTY regional staff responsibilities, assisting congregations in reaching out to unengaged teens, helping congregations strengthen their youth groups, and building points of connection for unaffiliated youth in the community. (Go to nfty.org/regions/directory to determine your congregation's NFTY region)
Enduring Jewish Art - A team of artists and curators have identified visual representations of images collected from museums around the world that continue to inspire Jewish memory and destiny. This resource can be used by high school students and adults in groups or individually. Piloting process to begin March 2011 for up to 4 congregations per district.
We propose to offer a Virtual High School using online technology for 11th and 12th grade students, complemented by an annual 3-day Shabbaton at a URJ camp. Priority will be given to teens whose congregations do not currently offer Jewish educational programs for high school juniors and seniors. There will be a per person cost to participate. Pilot online classes will begin Fall 2011.
Partners in the URJ's Campaign for Teen Engagement already include the CCAR, Joint Commission on Lifelong Jewish Learning, Just Congregations, HUC-JIR, ECE-RJ, PARDeS, NATE, ACC, WRJ, MRJ, NFTY, NAC, and the RAC. But real movement can only occur with your active support, guidance and patience. We want every congregation in the Union to join our campaign so that all of us, and most of all the teens among us, can win by learning and leading meaningful, wonderful Jewish lives.
While you can count on us to provide excellent curricula, camping, Israel, L'taken Seminars, NFTY and Mitzvah Corps programs, we are determined to improve the status quo in which only a minority of Reform Jewish teens remain active in Jewish life through high school. We want to learn about you, with you and from you. It is evident that much wisdom resides in our congregations, and to a great extent, in the teens themselves. Therefore, we enter this process with a deep sense of openness and humility as well as a listening ear. Our commitment is long-term. We are in a marathon, and we intend to pace ourselves over the next 10 years, at least, learning from our successes as well as our failures. Have we done our best to engage teens actively in Jewish learning and living? Not yet. Eit la'asot the time is now.
With a 2020 vision we can see clearly into our shared future - one in which we have strengthened the teen link in the chain of the Jewish people.