These Shoes are Made for Walking: Our Collective Path in the New Year

Inside Leadership

These Shoes are Made for Walking: Our Collective Path in the New Year

TOMS Shoes have fascinated me for years. I am taken by the company’s business model and how it brought social entrepreneurship into every day vernacular. I am also grateful the shoes are priced reasonably, given my daughter wears them all the time and it makes us both feel good there is social benefit to the transaction.

When leafing through last month’s catalog I noticed these quotes:

  • “When people come together, they share their ideas. With collaboration, truly great things can happen.”  Elliott Bisnow, Founder, Summit
  • “Just imagine what will happen when everyone realizes their potential for good” – Toby Storie-Pugh, Explorer & Social Entrepreneur, Walk the Congo

Smart marketing? Perhaps. A pair of shoes evoking a mission and a lifestyle. So much so, that they were able to inspire me to consider how we present the impact of our work and how we tell our story. Reform Judaism is a tradition, community, and profound way of life, offering meaning and purpose through Torah. In part, our mission is to better translate how Judaism relates to each individual’s identity by being able to resonate, lift, and engage.

Two weeks ago, the URJ Youth team gathered for a Leadership Development Retreat at our own Kutz Camp in Warwick, New York. Appropriately, we stayed at camp. Immersing ourselves in the work that we do.

We took part in skill building sessions on Israel engagement, inclusion and tikkun olam. We focused on developing our teams to view challenges as opportunities for growth. As the Retreat continued, the passion for our work and determination to make a difference was so strong, it became palpable and contagious. In sync with the Jewish calendar and the month of Elul, our time of reflection was both an ending of summer and a breakthrough for new year-long beginnings.

One of our staff members mentioned that when our teens leave a NFTY retreat or URJ camp at the end of summer, they often have a transitioning moment when they say in yearning – “It’s time to go back to the real world." They begin the school year, delve into homework, and daily routine, with memories on their mind, the connections they’ve made, and the individual each of them grew to be through their experience.

In the same breath – that staff member, Alexa Broida, our assistant director of Mitzvah Corps, reminded us that this is our real world. You – and I – as a collective team, get to create and shape life-changing experiences for our youth, and our priority is to expand them so their Judaism is an ongoing reality. Not just during an event, or during the summer, and not limited to just camp.

We have the opportunity to create connections this year through so many different, extraordinary facets. Our year-round offerings like the Better Together program, bridge older generations with our youth through mutual interests, while NFTY678 opens the doors of Jewish engagement to younger age groups. In our Service Corps program we tie camp to our local synagogue communities. This is our Real World. And it’s a higher call to collaborate and expand with each other.

In a way, our work is a journey. Sometimes, we need to reflect and look at our footsteps, to see how far we have come and plan the next steps ahead. I offer you this piece at a time of transition, between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Growth happens in the most unexpected settings, but most of all, I think we can learn from our youth that we grow the most when we truly enjoy what we do, and have fun. Let this be a time of renewal for you and your communities, and a chance to use our tools – our offerings and programs – to walk the path.

Miriam T. Chilton is the Union for Reform Judaism's vice president of youth; she previoulsy served as director of strategy, operations, and finance, for URJ Youth, Camp and Israel Programs. Miriam holds a master of arts in business administration and a master of science in information systems from Boston University, as well as a bachelor of arts in political science from Ithaca College. When she's not out in the field trying to engage more young people, Miriam is an active member of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, N.J.

Miriam T. Chilton
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