There are 1.5 million Reform Jews in North America. Each year, more teenagers become bar and bat mitzvah in Reform synagogues than in any other form of Judaism. Therefore, the Reform Movement has the potential to have an enormous impact on the next generation. Despite that potential, there is widespread frustration that a majority of teenagers who become bar and bat mitzvah are not significantly engaged in Jewish life by the time they graduate high school.
As the largest organization of Jewish congregations in the world, the URJ has engaged hundreds of thousands of teens in our myriad programs, yet over the decades teenagers drop out of Reform Jewish life by the time they graduate high school. Though we cannot do it alone, the URJ believes we must play a central role in transforming the culture, so that the majority of Jewish teens and their families stay involved in meaningful Jewish life after bar and bat mitzvah.
Therefore, the URJ is committed to a long-term "Campaign for Youth Engagement."
The URJ has garnered the political will and support for the Campaign for Youth Engagement through a vision team of nearly 70 Jewish professionals (rabbis, cantors, educators from camp, youth programs and early childhood) and lay leaders (including teens and parents) that conducted more than 1,000 conversations across North America and studied the latest research about youth engagement. There is broad support across the Reform Movement and beyond to change the culture and retain more youth and families.
The goal of the Campaign for Youth Engagement is to transform and strengthen the relationship between post-bnai mitzvah teens, their peers, their families, their congregations, the Reform Movement and the Jewish people. The Campaign will dramatically improve the ability of Reform institutions to involve young people in meaningful Jewish life and will strengthen post-bnai mitzvah engagement in synagogues, day schools, camps, and youth programs throughout North America. The Campaign is designed to make a major difference in the long-term engagement of youth and families and to build the capacity of the Reform Movement to act together on important issues and values.
How will we do it?
With the best, well-trained, dedicated PEOPLE. We commit to investing in people who work with our youth and families, providing training, a career path and a valued staff role, and strengthening the status of the field.
With PARTNERSHIPS that enable us to engage in Jewish life together. We commit to establishing building community and relationships as primary goals in all we do in our institutions.
With unbroken PATHWAYS to lifelong Jewish living and learning. We commit to investing in immersive Jewish experiences and forging institutional connections to ensure smooth transitions for youth and families as they develop and navigate their own Jewish journeys.
With the Campaign for Youth Engagement as PRIORITY NUMBER ONE. We commit to prioritize our youth, and to hold ourselves accountable for fulfilling these commitments.
The Jon Shevell Youth Innovation and Training Fund
Significant support for the Campaign for Youth Engagement comes from the Jon Shevell Youth Innovation and Training Fund, named for businessman Jon Shevell who passed away in 2008 at the age of 50. A native of New Jersey who lived in New York City for 25 years, Jon was a very giving person, known for his contagious sense of humor. Following his graduation from Tufts University and brief career playing professional basketball in Europe, Jon joined the business his father, Myron Mike Shevell started in 1977, New England Motor Freight (NEMF).
At NEMF, Jon served as vice chairman and executive vice president, responsible for NEMFs major accounts. He was regarded as an industry leader in the areas of sales and marketing. Jons skill as a salesman helped grow the company across North America to include 10,000 pieces of equipment and 40 transit terminals. From drivers and dispatchers to logistics managers and fellow sales people, Jon was loved among his coworkers as a vibrant, devoted and caring man. Jon was deeply committed to many causes within the community, particularly his support for Jewish students at Rutgers University and the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Call to Action at 2011 URJ Biennial
During the 2011 URJ Biennial, the Campaign for Youth Engagement took full flight when the Biennial body participated in a Call To Action, a series of Movement-wide commitments to the Jewish future.