As the echoes of the shofar mark the month of Elul and the procession to the High Holidays, I am reminded of the parallel rhythms that our camps, NFTY, and Israel experiences share with our Jewish calendar. During Elul, we reflect on our past year – how we grew, what we learned, our joys and sorrows, and the wisdom we gained – then we look ahead to the new year with goals for ourselves and our communities.
This summer was unlike any summer in our lifetime. While we’re incredibly thankful that children and teens were able to experience camp, among other programs, from home (more on that in a moment), we couldn’t be more excited to announce our plans for in-person URJ programming in summer 2021.
NFTY in Israel: Announcing a Partnership with RootOne (and an Unprecedented Discount)
Traveling to Israel is a pivotal point in so many teens’ Jewish journey. With the goal of giving more teens a lifechanging Israel experience, the URJ is thrilled to announce our partnership with RootOne, an ambitious new initiative that will help tens of thousands of teens travel to Israel each summer with major subsidies for trip participants. RootOne was seeded with a $20 million gift from The Marcus Foundation and is powered by the Jewish Education Project.
Through RootOne, a limited number of $3,000 vouchers will be granted to Reform teens traveling with NFTY in Israel, whether with their camp, on a specialty trip, or with their congregation. The vouchers are not need-based but will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Registration is open now, so be sure to share this information with your community. We expect spots to fill up quickly, so encourage them to reserve their space soon.
This brings us to our next big piece of news: We’re bringing back congregational NFTY in Israel trips! It’s a great way for confirmation classes or any congregation-based group of teens to have a top-tier Israel experience while deepening their bond with their synagogue community and the greater Reform Jewish community. Join us for a webinar on October 7 to learn more.
URJ Camps: Counting Down the Days Until Summer 2021
Even though summer 2020 is just winding down, we’re already gearing up for summer 2021 at camp. There’s truly no place like camp, where children, teens, and young adults foster lifelong friendships, learn enduring skills, and celebrate the joys of Jewish living – and we couldn’t be more excited to be planning for next summer.
You might be asking, “How do we plan ahead for in-person camp and Israel programs in summer 2021 given unknowns around COVID-19?” As new protocols, procedures, and learnings come to light, we see a very likely path to us coming together in person for camp and Israel programs. We are in constant contact with health and camp experts, and we’re committed to being nimble and responsive as the situation evolves. What we do know is that we will do everything in our power to make sure children, teens, staff, and faculty have a fun, safe summer.
As we prepare to open summer 2021 registration, though, we want to note that, as in years past, each individual URJ camp will open registration on its own schedule based on the needs of its communities. Across our camps, more than 50 percent of summer 2020 camp families have already secured their spaces for summer 2021 by rolling over their tuition, and because families are even more excited about getting back to camp, we’re expecting to fill up earlier than usual this year. Encourage families in your community to register as soon as possible to ensure they reserve a spot.
In the coming weeks, keep an eye out as our camps across North America start to open registration, and check out your local camp for more details.
Year-Round Experiences: Instilling a Love of Reform Judaism 365 Days a Year
As we kick off the new year, we’re continuing to offer virtual experiences for young people and their families through RJ on the Go, including an incredible series of High Holiday programs from NFTY. Just a few weeks ago, we launched NFTYx, a space where teens can turn their ideas into experiences for their peers. We’re so excited to see our young people innovate and lead us into the future!
Also of note is the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s new RAC Social Justice Academy for teens. This exciting initiative offers meaningful, fun, and actionable Jewish social justice education in a virtual setting. Teens can sign up individually or as a group – an incredible opportunity for your congregation’s teens to deepen their bond through learning, leading, and taking action on relevant issues. Speaking of relevant issues, be sure to check out Every Voice, Every Vote, the Reform Movement’s 2020 civic engagement campaign.
We’re also looking forward to the spring semester of URJ Heller High, our semester-long Israel study-abroad experience for high school students. This transformative program has helped so many teens discover a profound love and understanding of Israel, and we can’t wait to be back up and running. Stay tuned for more details, coming this fall.
Looking Back on the Summer with Appreciation and Awe
While not being in person for summer 2020 was truly heartbreaking, the response was from you, our community, was breathtaking.
While we may have been physically distant, we were not socially distant. In only a few months, virtual programming evolved from a crisis response into a new blessing that allows the Reform Movement to continue to innovate, engage our existing community, and welcome new families.
Thousands of children, teens, families, staff, alumni, and countless others made new connections, deepened old friendships, learned lifelong skills, and celebrated joyful Jewish living through virtual gatherings. Greatest hits included science experiments like “Will It Smush?” and “Kitchen Chemistry”; cooking demos like “Mug Cake Experiments” and “The Great Jewish Baking Show”; and interactive sessions like “Competitive Cup Stacking” and “Wacky Drama Games,” to name just a few.
Our exemplary professionals and lay leaders led the way – and will continue to do so – with love and dedication. In addition to the programs and events they led, our leaders also provided support and comfort, and to over 10,000 children & their families, along with 3,000 young adult staff and thousands of stakeholders as we all navigated this new, challenging reality.
We are incredibly thankful to the URJ camp and teen program families, board members, lay leaders, Jewish Federations, the Foundation for Jewish Camp, The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, and so many other donors who helped us raise $10 million in donations that help our youth programs remain vibrant as we begin the financial recovery process.
We truly cannot thank the community enough for all the ways you have supported us through this difficult time and for the ongoing support you provide, helping to ensure a strong and thriving Reform Jewish future for us all.
The Talmud states, “By the breath of children God sustains the world.” I am deeply grateful to partner with the wizards of our camping, NFTY, and Israel experience – camp professionals, friends, and stakeholders – as we create a more just compassionate world by giving our young people these gifts.