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October 9, 2015 | 26th Tishrei 5776

Youth Conferences in L.A. Highlight Strength of Reform Movement's Youth Engagement on West Coast

Contact : Annette Powers

Feb. 7, 2013, New York, NY – As the Jewish community on the West Coast grows ever stronger, the Reform Movement is expanding its focus on youth engagement there through large-scale youth programming and increased funding for URJ Camps and URJ Campaign for Youth Engagement initiatives.

Next week, nearly 900 Reform Jewish teens and more than 125 professionals and lay leaders who work with youth, will come together for the 2013 Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) Convention and Youth Engagement Conference in Los Angeles from February 15 through February 19.

The NFTY convention will include dynamic programs and speakers including URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who will address the teens for the first time since his installation. Actor/philanthropist Joshua Malina (Scandal, West Wing) is expected to address the convention and accept NFTY's annual contribution to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. Teens will learn leadership skills, share ideas with their peers from around the world, and experience Los Angeles as a living laboratory for innovation with visits to more than 20 local nonprofit organizations. Musical moments will be a centerpiece of the convention, with a Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) concert series featuring the music of Dan Nichols, Josh Nelson and Alan Goodis, and teen songleaders throughout the weekend. For the first time ever, the music concerts and main speakers will be broadcast on cable television JLTV on the NFTY Convention Live webpage.

"We are so excited that NFTY Convention is returning to the West Coast. The Reform Jewish community of Los Angeles, one of the largest in North America, will be a wonderful host to nearly 900 NFTYites,” said NFTY President Evan Traylor. “NFTY Convention 2013 is sure to be an incredible and inspiring event!"

The concurrent adult Youth Engagement Conference will bring together youth professionals, clergy and lay leaders of the Reform Movement to learn, network and share ideas on how to nurture and grow youth programs. This conference has been revamped from years past to be a laboratory for learning and growth with “Youth Engagement Labs” for small teams to conceive, plan, implement, and debrief experiential learning programs during the conference. The adult conference will also include a visit with youth ministry at a Los Angeles mega church, the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, to learn about their unique approach to youth engagement.

“It is no accident that we are hosting these conferences on the West Coast,” said URJ Director of Youth Engagement Rabbi Bradley Solmsen. “Though the Jewish community has always been extremely strong on this side of North America, it is in a tremendous growth period and these events will harness some of the incredible creative energy we see from our teens on the West Coast. We hope our efforts here will help them become even more engaged in Jewish life.”

Beyond these influential gatherings, the URJ’s Campaign for Youth Engagement is focused on working with West Coast congregations to find new ways to keep teens and families engaged in their communities. Four out of 14 congregations in the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution pilot program are located in California. These congregations will experiment with ways to create communities in which b'nai mitzvah are not seen as graduation parties, but as just one of the many important events in the Jewish lifecycle and an opportunity for family learning and engagement. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles recently announced a grant to create an additional B'nai Mitzvah Revolution pilot group for Los Angeles Congregations.

URJ Camps on the West Coast have also seen tremendous expansion in the past few years. Responding to an increase in the Jewish population in the Pacific Northwest, URJ Camp Kalsman outside Seattle, WA, has grown from 350 to 600 campers since it opened in 2007. The first and only Reform Movement residential summer camp in the Pacific Northwest, Kalsman is quickly become an invaluable addition to Jewish life in the region, providing first-class camping opportunities for Jewish children from Washington, Oregon, Montana, British Columbia, Idaho, Alaska, and beyond. The facility also provides rental and programming opportunities for Jewish organizations in the area.

And in Northern California, URJ Camp Newman announced recently a $1 million grant from the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties (JCF) to support the expansion and redevelopment of the 65-year old camp, including the addition of a new retreat center. The JCF’s $1 million contribution to Camp Newman represents the largest amount the Federation’s Endowment Fund has granted to any single capital project. Newman annually serves 3,500 adults and children for off-season retreats and 1,500 Jewish youth through its summer camp program. With the new retreat center, Camp Newman will be able to serve upwards of 13,000 individuals each year.

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