Learn more about this exciting new platform, where Reform congregational leaders connect with colleagues and peers who have similar concerns, interests and responsibilities.
In my youth (when the URJ was the UAHC), I was passionate about URJ Camp Harlam. My journey there began in 1976, the summer I turned nine, and took me from camper to counselor to supervisor and even to alumni president, for a while. At Harlam, the leadership believed in me before I believed in myself – and from that belief my confidence grew. Some of my closest friends are camp friends, and my love of Judaism was confirmed there. Now, 42 years later, my middle son Jacob is a CIT and my daughter Shayna is in Chavurah.
Indeed, from the day I became a mom 19 years ago, I dreamt about my children’s future. With each new hobby or passion they took on – whether baseball, cooking, theater, or something else – I wondered if that was the one that would lead them to a life filled with purpose and meaning.
Although I never caught the bug for NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, my husband did a stint in PAFTY, the regional group in Pennsylvania, when he was in high school. However, neither of us pushed our kids to be involved in our Temple Youth Group (TYG). Thankfully, the youth leaders at our synagogue, Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, in Elkins Park, PA, captured the interest of our oldest son William, and his involvement led the way for his siblings.
William’s first-ever youth group event as a ninth-grader was a trip to a Phillies game at which the teens collected cans and bottles for recycling. Afterward, he shared that he felt fulfilled by participating in an event that was fun blended with tikkun olam (repair of the world). He next attended WINSTY, the winter social action weekend for the Pennsylvania (PAR) region of NFTY. He was warmly welcomed by the PAR-ites and later told me he wanted to bring that same feeling to others.
As his involvement in NFTY-PAR increased, William successfully ran for the membership vice president (MVP) post on the regional board before he took his passion one step further and was elected to NFTY’s North American board as the MVP this past year. In this role, William has enjoyed an unparalleled experience of leadership, engagement, networking, and support. For those of us watching from the sidelines, we are taking incredibly pride in his accomplishments, his growth as a leader, his passionate voice on behalf of the Reform Movement, and the joy he takes in living Jewishly.
While many younger siblings might look to step away from the shadow of an older brother, surprisingly, each of our other children followed in William’s footsteps, drawn to the youth group experience, where they, too, have found a meaningful connection in NFTY. Although it initially may have provided a way for our kids to see their camp friends more often, like their brother, they gravitated to leadership roles as well.
This year, our youngest daughter Shayna, a rising high school sophomore, will serve on the TYG board, KIFTY, as MVP and our middle son Jacob, a rising high school senior, was elected to the NFTY-PAR regional board as religious and cultural vice president.
Beyond the nachas (joy and pride) I feel for all their accomplishments, I can say with certainty that my children are far from bored. Their involvement and commitment at every level of our youth movement has nurtured their individuality and helped them develop skills that will contribute to their success in life. Their desire to find a welcoming, social community – a kehillah kedoshah (a sacred community) – is, indeed, where they have found a group of true friends and have learned to be leaders and activists in their home, school, and congregational communities.