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September 3, 2015 | 19th Elul 5775

Serving Our Youth: May 2011

Serving Our Youth

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May 24, 2011 / 20 Iyar, 5771

This newsletter provides information and resources for Jewish professionals and lay leaders working with youth in URJ congregations.

From the Union Youth Specialists


> Teen Engagement


> Teens and Technology


> Teen Engagement Network


> Reform Youth
Professionals Association


> Webinars


> Youth Department


> Israel Programs


> Camps


We’ve just celebrated the 63rd anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. On May 14, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion read Israel’s Declaration of Independence on Rothschild Boulevard, the entire country rejoiced, as they knew a new world was just beginning. Ten years later, NFTY in Israel sent the first delegation of young people to experience Jewish life in the Jewish State. This month the URJ is highlighting its many Israel-related resources, and in this newsletter we celebrate our amazing youth-oriented Israel programs that have made such an enormous impact on the lives of so many young people!

In this issue of Serving Our Youth, we’ll also take a closer look at one of our Teen Engagement pilot programs and share information about teens and technology. Plus, you can read about NFTY’s new Youth Programs Managers positions and about what happens at URJ’s Kutz Camp.

We also want to remind readers that during the month of June the URJ will highlight its many resources for helping congregations with LGBT and tolerance programming. NFTY has some wonderful resources as part of their Living NFTY campaign GLBTQ Teen Inclusion. There is also a great article called “Welcoming LGBT Families into our Schools and Youth Groups” on the URJ blog, and you may want to revisit our webinar on cyberbullying, “Cyberbullying & Sexting: How Can We Respond and What Can We Do to Prevent It?”, found in the Youth section of the URJ webinar archives.

For more information or assistance contact one of our Youth Specialists:

Margie BogdanowMargie Bogdanow

Craig RosenCraig Rosen

Rabbi Laura Novak WinerRabbi Laura Novak Winer

Dana Sheanin Dana Sheanin

Teen Engagement

Enduring Jewish Art

Art can enrich our lives and provide a visual component to help students understand our Torah, Jewish history and stories. This project, part of our Campaign for Youth Engagement, uses art as a vehicle through which to capture the human experience for study. While the written word often does not capture the imaginations of all of our students, a visual approach may open the door to our texts and stories for them.

Six units are being developed, including: Finding the Jewish in Art; Learning about Jewish History; Studying Torah; Studying Prophets; Exploring Jewish Identity (Portraits); and Finding the Strange and Bizarre in Jewish Art. Eighteen congregations are already piloting some lessons. After all units have been completed this curriculum will hopefully open the door to additional lessons and to enriched learning for both younger students and adult audiences.

For more information on this and our other pilot projects, visit

Teens and Technology

Facebook for Educators
We must understand how to reach out to “digital natives” who interact with technology on a daily basis. The “Facebook for Educators” guide provides ideas regarding internet safety, using Facebook for 24/7 education and more. While it caters to those in formal education, the site shares some useful tools and resources for us. If your congregation uses Facebook to engage teens in innovative ways, we’d love to hear about it. Send your ideas to Craig Rosen and we can share them in future Serving Our Youth newsletters.

Promoting Internet Safety and Jewish Values on the Web
It may be counter-intuitive, but after a long day at work many of us log on to Facebook to unwind. So do kids and teens—over 20 million of them, according to Consumer Reports. However, teens are doing more than just checking their news feeds and responding to friend requests. Over 20% of them have been harassed, threatened or otherwise bullied on the web, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, and online privacy issues and internet addiction have also become legitimate concerns.

Leslie Bass, the URJ Web Associate for Camp, Israel and NFTY, led a presentation about internet safety and Jewish values. She developed three ways that teens can use the web for good.

Feel free to use and adapt the presentation for your synagogue or youth group, or incorporate these key points into your everyday work.

Teens should know:

1.    Privacy doesn’t exist online (but privacy settings are worth using anyway!) Consider zniyut, the Jewish concept of personal modesty and restraint, when choosing to share personal details on social media.

2.    We believe in standing up to cyberbullies (and encourage you not to be one).

3.    Log off, because real life is written in more than 140 characters. Teens can pledge to unplug on Shabbat by participating in the Unplug Challenge on the Sabbath Manifesto website.

Teen Engagement Network

In early April, the East District Forum brought together individuals from around North America to learn, network, sing, pray and be inspired. During these sessions, we learned about today’s teens – who they are, how they communicate and ways in which our congregations can engage, inspire and learn from them. There are many Forum resources online, and you can use them either as follow up on what you learned at the Forum or to find out what you missed. If you are not yet part of our Network, please join us. We welcome your involvement and look forward to learning together.

Reform Youth Professionals Association (RYPA)

A group of youth professionals from throughout North America have crafted a charter and are establishing themselves as an official affiliate of the Reform Movement. They have three task forces (Professional Development, Administrative and Communications), and are recruiting more members. If you or someone you know may be interested in participating, please visit the RYPA website and complete the volunteer form, or contact Craig Rosen, URJ Youth Specialist.


Webinars are free, live web presentations that allow you to learn from experts in areas of importance to youth.

Check the webinar pages on the URJ website throughout the summer for upcoming youth-related webinars.

URJ Webinar Archives
Webinars can be accessed anytime through the URJ webinar archives. Some of the archived webinars include: Creating Youth Policies for your Congregation; Strengthening Your Youth Committee; Integrating Youth Professionals into your Community; What Does a “Youth Friendly” Congregation Look Like; and Cyberbullying & Sexting – How Can We Respond and What Can We do to Prevent it?

URJ Parenting podcasts cover a broad range of topics and feature renowned experts. They are short and easily downloadable so you can take them anywhere. Take a listen and tell us what you think—we welcome your ideas for future learning.

URJ – Youth Department

What are NFTY Youth Programs Managers? NFTY’s Newest Positions!
We are delighted to introduce new NFTY professional positions. NFTY Youth Programs Managers are full-time, region-based, youth professionals who will work directly with teens, congregations and communities. Their primary goal will be to achieve Jewish teen engagement and they will be responsible for:

  • Building relationships with congregations, communities and teens
  • Offering resources and guidance to congregations in their pursuit to serve the needs of teens
  • Coordinating/providing learning opportunities for teens and youth professionals
  • Helping currently unengaged teens find avenues for connection and participation in Jewish life in NFTY and beyond
  • Continuing to mentor the NFTY Regional Board and organizing regular NFTY regional events
  • Responding to the interests of teens through experimenting with congregational, regional and/or community programming
  • Serving as an ambassador for all URJ Youth Programs

NFTY currently has funding for six to eight of these positions throughout North America. We look forward to this new venture, endorsed by the URJ Board of Trustees, to find innovative, non-traditional ways to engage our teens.


The URJ Kutz Camp hosts a college-campus style program where teens select a major, minors and electives. The foundation of the program is steeped in leadership and Reform Jewish values, and the program brings together 200 teens from across North America and around the world. The ten majors include:

Creative Arts Experience
Digital Media
Hagshama: Mind, Body & Soul
Mitzvah Corps: Mentorship & Advocacy
NFTY Regional Board Leadership

TEVA Outdoor Adventures
Temple Youth Group Leadership
Torah Corps: Jewish Studies
Ulpan Ha'aretz: Hebrew Language & Israeli Culture

This summer, our teens will be joined by scores of rabbis and cantors from the greater New York area. As our movement rallies around the Campaign for Youth Engagement, we welcome our regional clergy to inspire and engage the youth we serve at Kutz Camp and in NFTY. We are excited to host three Leil Limud Beit Midrash evenings during which clergy will have an opportunity to teach and learn with participants in the Kutz program. Each evening will focus on a theme from NFTY’s Thirteen Principles, the guiding values of NFTY and Kutz Camp.

We look forward to spending our 46th summer at Kutz with teens from your congregation. For more information about Kutz, please be in touch with Melissa Frey,, or visit

URJ - Israel Programs

63 and 53: What Do They Have In Common With The URJ?
Israel just celebrated its 63rd birthday and the Reform Movement is celebrating its 53rd anniversary of sending young people (more than 35,000 over the years) on journeys to Israel through NFTY in Israel’s summer teen programs, the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel program and the URJ-KESHER Taglit Birthright Israel programs. For many, the Israel experience codifies their years of Jewish education in religious school, summer camp and at home. This summer, more than 1,500 people will travel to Israel under the URJ’s auspices.

A relationship with Israel is central to Reform Jewish identity, and the Israel experience helps young North American Jewish teens develop personal connections to the people, places and history of Israel. Using a chronological model, URJ Israel programs travel through Israel and allow participants to let Israel travel through them. All URJ Israel programs give participants the opportunity to interact with Israeli peers. The personal contact participants have with their Israeli counterparts helps bridge the gap between the Diaspora and Israel.

By traveling to Israel, our participants help fulfill part of Herzl’s dream, one in which Jews have a place to call their own, to connect to and to dream about themselves. URJ’s Israel programs have helped create these relationships for three generations. For more, visit

URJ – Camps

During the CCAR meeting in March 2011, Rabbis Phyllis Sommer and Daniel Gropper shared their thoughts about being a “camp rabbi” and creating community. Their remarks (which you can read online) are a fantastic tribute to the power of what camp can do for the Jewish people. As we gear up for our summer season, think about ways to support campers after they return to their home congregations. We wish all of our campers an amazing summer!!!

Visit for more information about our camps and specialty programs, staff opportunities, news updates, research and more!

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