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October 9, 2015 | 26th Tishrei 5776

Union for Reform Judaism Launches Campaign for Youth Engagement; Names Rabbi Bradley Solmsen as Director

Annette Powers

December 21, 2011, New York, NY - The largest movement in Judaism committed itself to cultivating the next generation through its Campaign for Youth Engagement,  launched at the Union for Reform Judaism's (URJ) 71st Biennial conference last week. It was also announced that Rabbi Bradley Solmsen would be the URJ's new Director of Youth Engagement.

On Thursday afternoon, leaders of the entire Reform Movement, including the URJ, ACC, CCAR, ECE-RJ, HUC-JIR, MRJ, NATA, NATE, NFTY, PARDes, and WRJ, joined together for a dynamic and interactive forum, led by URJ's Senior Vice President Jonah Pesner. Participants discussed ways to take action in their congregations and be part of this historic initiative.

On Sunday, during the closing plenary session, Pesner officially launched the campaign and implored the Biennial attendees, "My friends, here's the truth. We can't succeed unless everyone in this room makes this their personal campaign. How will each one of us, leaders in our own communities, make our vision a reality? Because ultimately, there will only be true transformation: When our local congregations and communities– yours and mine – succeed in capturing the imagination of the next generation.  So now I ask you, will you make this your campaign?"

Biennial delegates then passed a resolution on youth engagement that calls for considerable resources to be put behind this effort, including full-time youth professionals throughout North America and lowering the financial barriers to involvement in NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) programs, early childhood education, summer camps, day schools, L'Taken Social Justice Seminars, Mitzvah Corps and Israel experiences. It was announced that the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's Machon Kaplan program for college students will now be free of charge thanks to a grant from the Crown Family Foundation.

Following passage of the resolution, incoming URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs offered his first address as the new leader of the Reform Movement. He told the gathered audience that, "We've faced the hard truth about the staggering percentage of our b'nai mitzvah who are eyeing the door." Jacobs went on to say, "This exodus demands nothing short of a Movement-wide transformation of how we interact with our youth. In plain talk, we're focusing on relationships over programs. From early childhood to b'nai mitzvah to high school and then to college, we need a giant web of sacred strategies to give our kids roots and wings to stay grounded while soaring through this confusing world."

As Director of Youth Engagement, Solmsen will lead the Union's efforts to realize the vision of the Campaign for Youth Engagement (CYE). He is returning to the URJ having served as the Distance Learning Coordinator in the Youth Division (2000-2001) and Senior Educator for NFTY Programs in Israel while he was a rabbinical student at HUC-JIR. Since then, Solmsen has distinguished himself as a creator and leader of innovative programs for teens at Brandeis University with the Genesis and BIMA programs. Bradley's achievements led to his being named the Founding Director of Brandeis University's High School programs.  He is currently pursuing his Doctorate in Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

"Bradley has a distinguished track record of engaging thousands of teens by attracting the very best staff and developing excellent programs," said URJ Senior Vice President Jonah Pesner. "He has already energized our teens, lay leaders and staff with his ideas about how to succeed in this critical campaign."

"I am deeply impressed by the URJ's commitment to innovate and invest on behalf of youth," said Solmsen. "There is no more important work in the Jewish community than this agenda and I am honored that the URJ has asked me to join their team."

Support for the Campaign for Youth Engagement can already be seen through the extraordinary generosity of the Movement's donors, who have given over $1,000,000 in seed money to enhance the URJ's youth staff and provide synagogue innovation grants.

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