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October 7, 2015 | 24th Tishrei 5776

Dynamic Conferences in L.A. Underscore Reform Movement's Commitment to Jewish Youth

Contact: Annette Powers; 212-650-4154

March 5, 2013, New York, NY – Last month, 863 Reform Jewish teens and 135 professionals and lay leaders who work with youth came together for five days of learning, singing and praying for the 2013 Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) Convention and Youth Engagement Conference (YEC) in Los Angeles.

The YEC brought together youth professionals, clergy and lay leaders to learn, network and share ideas on how to nurture and grow youth programs. The conference focused on experimentation, with opportunities for participants to conceive, plan, implement, and debrief experiential learning programs with teens attending the NFTY Convention. Participants also attended skill-based workshops relating to various elements of youth engagement, led by experts within the Jewish community and from congregations doing exemplary work.

The YEC and NFTY Convention overlapped in many ways, including during worship on Shabbat, where participants were moved by a Dvar Torah from URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs and NFTY President Evan Traylor.

“I was asked to help inspire the almost 900 Reform Jewish teens and the nearly 150 professionals and lay leaders who work hard every day to keep them engaged,” said Rabbi Jacobs. “In the end, they were the ones who inspired me! I was simply amazed at the level of passion and motivation both groups have for living Jewishly and reimagining Jewish life for the generations to come. The future of the Jewish people is in their capable hands.”

“The more the adults who work with youth are engaged deeply in what we say and do, the more our teens will be engaged, deeply, in what we do,” said URJ Director of Youth Engagement Rabbi Bradley Solmsen. “If each of us commit to learning and growing – to being learners ourselves – we will be that much better at helping our teenagers learn and grow. That’s what I hope the Campaign for Youth Engagement is about.”

One highlight of the YEC was a visit with youth ministry at the First African Methodist Episcopal (Mega) Church to learn about their approaches to youth engagement. Participants also heard from dynamic speakers such as Cyd Weissman, Director, Innovation in Congregational Learning for Greater New York, for The Jewish Education Project and Allison Fine, co-author of the bestselling The Networked Nonprofit, and author of the award-winning Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age.

NFTY Convention participants heard from stirring speakers such as actor and activist Josh Malina (West Wing, Scandal), who spoke about the importance of Jewish social justice work and Talia Leman, an 18-year-old Jewish girl from Iowa who raised $10 million dollars for Hurricane Katrina relief and who inspires “Random Kids” everywhere through her not-for-profit organization, Marc Elliot, a 27-year-old former NFTYite from St. Louis, MO, discussed how he overcame physical and neurological conditions to bring his moving message of tolerance to young people everywhere.

Teens experienced Los Angeles as a living laboratory for innovation with visits to more than 20 local nonprofit organizations, including Six Points Fellowship, IKAR, Jewcer, The Giving Keys, City Year LA, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and more. The teens celebrated the Women of Reform Judaism’s (WRJ) 100 years noting that one of WRJ’s greatest moments in history was recognizing the need for, and making it possible to, establish a Reform youth movement. Musical moments were also a highlight of the convention, with a WRJ concert series featuring the music of Dan Nichols, Josh Nelson and Alan Goodis, and teen songleaders throughout the weekend.

Local philanthropists Mark and Peachy Levy received NFTY’s highest honor, NFTY Life Membership, in appreciation of their Mark and Peachy Levy Scholarship Fund, which has made it possible for more than 20,000 teens to experience NFTY, Israel and URJ Camping programs. NFTY competition winners were announced and the 2013-2014 NFTY Board was elected to be installed in June.


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