young man playing guitar

Synagogue music experienced a radical transformation in the late 1960s, as sing-along tunes that originated in youth group and camp settings replaced the earlier performance-oriented style. The duo, Kol B’Seder, made up of Rabbi Daniel Freelander, then a voice major at the Hartt School of Music, and Cantor Jeff Klepper, then a Kutz Camp-trained song leader, helped usher in the new era of Jewish liturgical folk music.  Their 1973 setting of “Shalom Rav,” like Debbie Friedman’s “Mi Shebeirach,” have since become so ubiquitous worldwide as to be considered traditional.  

I asked Rabbi Freelander, who is now executive director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, how a small cadre of camp-based singer-songwriters launched a revolution that got Reform Jews singing in the pews.

Aron Hirt-Manheimer

Some communities just get it: They understand that inclusion a mindset, a way of thinking about how we treat one another, ensuring that everyone has a place. These communities understand that inclusion is who we are and who we want to be. I've been fortunate to know and work in a few such communities - like URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy in Byfield, MA.

Lisa Friedman

Our URJ Youth programs are cornerstones of the Reform Movement's youth engagement efforts.

URJ Youth

Sports, games, art and science projects. Swimming, hiking, climbing. Laughing, learning, sharing. It’s these activities, and more, that transform summer camp into one of the strongest links in the Reform Movement’s chain of connections. In fact, summertime for the URJ is like one huge game of connect-the-dots. Connecting current campers with alumni. Connecting clergy with worshippers. Connecting songleaders with singers. Connecting students with teachers. Connecting our Jewish past to our Jewish present and future. In the last few weeks, I’ve spent time at several of our overnight camps – URJ Kutz Camp, URJ Greene Family Camp, and URJ 6 Points Sports Academy – and I’m headed to GUCI this weekend and to URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy in early August. Being at camp is a joy. It’s a reminder of what was most special to me as a camper – feeling for the first time a brand new excitement about Shabbat, the Birkat HaMazon, and standing up for social justice.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs

As the academic year comes to a close, we’ve rounded up resources for your congregation to stay connected with your campers throughout the summer. The tips and resources here will assist your congregation in leveraging the learning, joy and relationships developed at camp during the summer. We hope you find a few of these recommendations helpful in deepening their love of Jewish living and learning when they return home. Before the summer...

  1. Recognize those who are headed off to camp: Invite kids to the bimah for a send-off blessing. Display photos and bios of campers who are going to camp on a bulletin board and include their names in bulletins and emails.
  1. Organize a send-off party: Help campers meet new friends from their home congregations and get excited about heading to camp.
  1. Help families get ready: Share the link to resources on, especially with first-time camp families. Identify a family in your community who can be a resource for first-timers.

by Emily Gergen and Stephen Weitzman

According to Jewish tradition, the number three has special significance implying completeness and stability. Examples of this importance include the expression “and God blessed,” which occurs three times in Genesis; the word “holy,” which is recited three times during kedusha, the priestly benediction which consists of three sections; the three Patriarchs; and the three pilgrimage festivals.

Considering the power of three, we have been on the staff and faculty of Camp Chazak, the URJ’s camp for children who have social adjustment delays, for the past three years. As a result, we have directly witnessed tremendous spiritual growth and personal changes on the part of campers, regardless of whether they were new to the program or were repeat participants.

The Forward recently shared "Jewish Camp Trend-Spotting: 10 Ways a Summer Ritual Is Changing," detailing how the world of Jewish camping is evolving – and the Reform Jewish Movement’s 15 summer camps are leading the way! Here are a few ways URJ Camps are on the cutting edge:

  1. Specialized Programs: Specialty camps allow us to expand our geographic and programmatic reach to cohorts of young people who otherwise would be unlikely to enroll in Jewish camp.
    • Ours is the only Jewish camping system that received funding in both rounds of the Specialty Camps Incubator program. An initiative of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, the Jim Joseph Foundation, and the AVI CHAI Foundation, these grants support the creation of new specialty camps to engage more children in the Jewish camp experience.
    • At URJ 6 Points Sports Academy (NC), Jewish athletes participate in top-level sports training in a Reform Jewish camp setting. This year’s registration was the highest in the camp’s five-year history.

By Richard Rosenthal

Partaking in annual traditions are what highlight family values to me. For example, watching the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade together, using the same afikoman cover year after year, and preparing a special meal for Rosh HaShanah are some special traditions that come to mind. Along that continuum, there is a tradition that blossomed over 25 years ago at URJ Camp Coleman in the North Georgia Mountains called Camp Jenny. This tradition happens every year, when camp organizers come together with 125 NFTYites to share their values, and to offer their love, leadership, and guidance to approximately 150 under-privileged children who engage in camp activities over Memorial Day weekend.

As the enrollment level of boys surpasses that of girls for the inaugural summer at the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) has made a $5,000 grant from its YES (Youth, Education, & Special Projects) Fund to provide scholarships for female campers.

The scholarships are meant to encourage and support the participation of girls in science and technology, which have traditionally been male-dominated fields. Each scholarship recipient will receive $500 toward registration at the camp this summer.

To be considered for a scholarship, applicants must be enrolled at the camp between March 1 and April 30, entering grades 5-9 in Fall 2014, and belong to a URJ congregation.

Recently, I attended the funeral of Mark Levy, z"l, in Los Angeles and had the honor of celebrating his life.