NFTY students riding in a donkey caravan seen from behind

Last week, as the calendar filled with important occasions for Israel, I thought about the role the country plays in shaping Jewish identity for our movement’s young people. For decades, the URJ has been sending teens to Israel for life-changing experiences. This summer, Sci-Tech Israel, a new specialty trip, will join our family of teen and young adult Israel programs, which includes NFTY in IsraelURJ Heller High, and URJ Kesher, the only Birthright trip associated with Reform Judaism.

Miriam Chilton

New York, NY, October 19, 2016 – The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) announced today that the Heller family of Scotch Plains, NJ, has made an endowment gift of $5 million to fund the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel Program, which is being renamed URJ Heller High: Isaac and Helaine Heller EIE High School in Israel. This is the largest gift in EIE history, and the URJ’s largest non-capital gift.

If progressive Judaism is going to prevail, the Union for Reform Judaism must be investing in ways to connect young Jews to our traditions, to Israel, and to our future.

Rabbi Jack and Audrey Romberg

By Eleanor Schwartz

Excerpted from "Ani V’atah" NFTY Newsletter, February 2005.

This decade was a Golden Era for NFTY; a time of innovation and creative energy, a search for and development of identity with an agenda for action within the congregation; the affirmation that teens and the Temple Youth Group (TYG) had come of age.

This actually started in the late 40s after the end of World War II, when Rabbi Samuel Cook became the NFTY Director. He had the vision that post-confirmation teens needed to “grow up Jewishly” in an environment of their choice, a program of their choice, and with responsibility for their actions. The then young adult NFTY Board shared this vision and in 1948 took action to change the age profile of NFTY to post-confirmation throughout school. Having banished themselves as NFTY members, many of these “retirees” became TYG or regional advisors and faculty members at NFTY events.