The summit, happening February 17-20 in Chicago, IL, is a gathering of a community of adults who are professionally invested in the future of our Reform Jewish youth. Read through these five reasons your team needs to attend - and then get registered. We can't wait to see you there!

Rabbi Leora Kaye

At the end of the book of Bamidbar, which we just completed reading, it seemed that Moses’ career as a leader had come to an end. His successor, Joshua, had already been determined, and it would be he, not Moses, who would lead the people into the Promised Land. Still, in the midst of transition and the last month of his life, Moses assembles the people and delivers a series of addresses. This week’s parasha begins with the phrase Eleh ha-d’varim, meaning “these are the words.” As the children of Israel assemble in front of him, Moses prepares them for a new beginning. He ceases to be the liberator, the miracle worker who parted the sea, and the redeemer who was called upon to replenish a depleted well. The people gain responsibility.

Miriam Chilton

I’ve always felt that our religious school goes above and beyond the standard – but when I learned of a way to validate that belief in an official capacity, I was eager to pursue the opportunity. When I participated in a webinar that addressed the benefits of going through an accreditation process for religious schools through the Association of Reform Jewish Educators (ARJE) I felt it would be worth pursuing at Or Chadash.

Rina Liebeskind

We know it’s important – and invaluable – to create a seat in the classroom for every child. But saying is easier than doing. How can we use the rules of improv to make inclusion happen in our congregations?

Shoshana Nyer

I heard one liberal Jewish day school head say this about Halloween:

Rabbi Dr. Tali Zelkowicz

We at the URJ are proud to announce that Michelle Shapiro Abraham, our director of program development for the Campaign for Youth Engagement, is the recipient of a 2015 Covenant Award for her work creating change and driving impact in Jewish education. Abraham joins 74 other Jewish educators honored by the Covenant Foundation since the award was established in 1991. Mazal tov, Michelle!

In her role for the Campaign for Youth Engagement, and before that as a consulting partner, Abraham creates unique programs and experiences that transform the lives of thousands of Reform Jewish youth, teen leaders, camp staff, and congregational educators. Working in partnership with youth and camp leadership, her achievements at the URJ include:

  • Directing Service Corps Fellows, placing college-age camp staff in congregations year-round to lead innovative camp-inspired programs, an effort which has contributed to 700 new camp enrollments.
  • Supporting and developing Olim Fellows, a two-year staff fellowship focusing on leadership skills for five URJ camps that takes place year-round and includes two retreats annually.
  • Overseeing the launch of NFTY678, an expansion of NFTY programming to involve younger participants (6th-8th graders), resulting in a 15% increase in NFTY registration last year.
  • Designing Jewish values-based curricula customized for URJ specialty camps, including 6 Points Sports Academy and 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, which now boasts a 70% return rate.

by Rabbi Melissa Zalkin Stollman

What went on at the Youth Summit? Yes, learning. Yes, networking. Yes, collaboration. But so much more. Experimentation. Visioning. Celebration. Inspiration. In addition to watching NFTY teens celebrate and pray together, we too needed this opportunity to join as a community.

Today’s studies and statistics provide proof that engaged youngsters become actively practicing Jewish adults. While practicing remains a matter of degree, anyone who has worked with young people recognizes that relationships built during these formative years facilitate engagement long after the conclusion of temple youth group days. Creating those relationships requires incredibly dedicated adults who see significant value and promise in their work with young people.

But creating a nurturing environment for relationships to flourish requires thoughtful, sometimes subtle planning. There are best practices. There are pitfalls to avoid. How can someone new to youth work gain insights? How can someone who has been working with teens for years be rejuvenated and re-inspired?

If you work with Jewish youth and are asking yourself these questions, I propose you attend the URJ Youth Summit at NFTY Convention in Atlanta, February 13-17. You will have the opportunity to meet like-minded peers, and build professional relationships to share the agonies and ecstasies of youth work!

As we approach the eighth night of Hanukkah, I know I’m not alone when I say I’ve almost reached my fill of latkes! Still, I can never get my fill of family and community gatherings that are bursting with joy, spirituality, and a sense of awe for the enduring, illuminating light of the menorah.

Of all the Jewish holidays, engaging youth and families during Hanukkah always seems to be the most effortless. Maybe it’s the seasonal cheerfulness, the theme of giving, or the focus on family, but the act of lighting the menorah is a mitzvah that still speaks to all Jews – even those who are minimally engaged in Jewish life.

Hanukkah is the annual reminder of our collective ability to persist in the face of adversity, to assemble for religious freedom, and to recognize the light in the midst of darkness. Similar to the teachings of Hanukkah, the URJ’s youth engagement work is ultimately intended to repair the world by fostering a personal commitment to social justice, advocacy, and meaningful values.

There is much to learn from Hanukkah’s inherent methods of youth engagement. Here are eight Hanukkah-inspired strategies that light the way for increased youth engagement in our communities and congregations:

by Amy Asin and Lisa Lieberman Barzilai

Two years ago, the Union for Reform Judaism launched its Communities of Practice (CoP) initiative. We began with five separate cohorts, comprising lay and professional leaders from congregations throughout North America:

  • Pursuing Excellence in Your Early Childhood Centers
  • Engaging Families with Young Children
  • Engaging Young Adults
  • Reimagining Financial Support
  • Revolutionizing B’nai Mitzvah Engagement

During the course of 18-24 months and with guidance from URJ staff, each cohort came together to learn from experts in the field and from each other, ask big questions, and share ideas and best practices. Leaders from nearly 90 congregations participated in the five inaugural CoPs, and more than 75% of them have since launched pilots to apply newfound knowledge in their own communities.

Throughout the process, we developed significant intellectual capital, and gained important insights about how CoPs strengthen and enrich congregations. Here are five important lessons learned.