My Jewish Journey

February 4, 2014
By Susan Klau To my family, one of the most important aspects of Reform Judaism is community. My Jewish journey through adolescence was much different than my parents'. My dad, born in New York and raised in Puerto Rico, experienced a limited and informal Jewish education. Puerto Rico’s Temple Youth Groups are associated with NFTY-NAR (the New York Area Region) and my dad did one year of NFTY his sophomore year of high school. As he tells it, his NFTY experience consisted of sitting in a circle with some of his classmates, eating pizza, talking about Jewish 'hot' topics, and singing To Everything There Is a Season. My mother became a Jew by choice after meeting my dad, and one of the things that she loved so much about Judaism was the friendship network that came with the religion. When I was born, my parents knew that they wanted Judaism to be an important part of my identity.

When Numbers Aren’t Everything: Defining Qualitative Success

February 3, 2014
The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor. By Michael Fuld Defining success is one of the key components to any organization. As a youth professional, when someone asks me, “How did the event go?” it’s almost always followed by, “How many people were there?” As we continue to innovate and provide new and unique entry points for Jewish teens, the number of teens shouldn’t be the only benchmark by which we judge success. In our field, the number of participants that we serve is something that is constantly being scrutinized. We’ve all heard the numbers. 80% of teens leave our movement after b’nai mitzvah. The Campaign for Youth Engagement began with a goal that defines the quantity - that we see a four-fold increase in the number of Jewish youth engaging in Jewish life by 2020. When we look at our best youth-friendly congregations, we often refer first to the number of participants that are coming through our doors.

It Happened After Two Full Years (Genesis 41:1)

January 31, 2014
The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor. By Rabbi Jack P. Paskoff (While this article reflects the experience of my congregation, proper credit should be given to Rabbi Bennett Miller at the Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple. The model my congregation uses is based on what I learned as Rabbi Miller’s assistant and associate from 1988-1993.)
“I’m not sure I see myself being involved Jewishly in college.” “I’m not sure I believe in God.” “Should I have children when I get older, I know I’ll raise them as Jews.” “The first time I left for Camp Harlam/went to Israel/went to a NFTY event/attended a L’Taken seminar/confronted anti-Semitism/dealt with the death of a peer, I felt a deeper attachment to my faith.”
The first time I suggested changing Confirmation to 12th grade, it seemed as if I had thrown down the first set of tablets received at Sinai. There were those concerned about my tampering with tradition and others who were convinced that we would see a huge drop off in enrollment after Bar/Bat Mitzvah. At the beginning of 12th grade Confirmation, I ask our students to write an essay addressing two basic questions:
  1. What have been the most meaningful milestones in your Jewish life to date?
  2. What exactly are you “confirming” for your Jewish future?

Three Stories: URJ & Ramah Camps Come Together To Learn

January 30, 2014
The URJ Service Corps program is designed to engage young URJ Camps staff and alumni, who will apply their experience, talents, and skills to create experiential, camp-style programming for families and youth in synagogue communities around the country. Working in partnership with the National Ramah Commission, the program seeks, over three years, to have a total of 80 young adult educators engaged in part-time youth leadership roles in Conservative and Reform communities throughout North America, working actively to recruit for camp and to help reenergize the communities they serve through innovative, inspiring, and immersive Jewish programming. In early January, Ramah and URJ Service Corps Fellows met in California, where they learned, shared, and explored this new and exciting role in the Jewish community. URJ Service Corps Fellows from three of our camps shared their stories:

MINCHA: Committing to the Whole Teen

January 30, 2014
The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor. By Ellie Klein Goldman In the fall of 2013 Temple Shalom in Newton, MA launched a new weekly program for 7th and 8th graders called MINCHA.  The evening includes dinner, time with friends, creative Jewish learning and leadership development.   In designing MINCHA we had a number of goals in mind:
  1. Create a safe and supportive environment for teens.
  2. Foster positive connections with one another and with enthusiastic staff.
  3. Introduce teens to Jewish living in creative and active ways.
  4. Develop teens’ skills as leaders.
  5. Convey an appreciation that their schedules are complicated, their interests varied and that every commitment demands to be the top priority.
Reaching this fifth goal has proven to be harder than we expected.  We carefully crafted the marketing message to say - “We want you to be here, you play an important role in what we are doing and when you’re here, we will make sure it’s fantastic.”  There are not rules about attendance or book-reports for missed sessions.  Students sign themselves in when they arrive and sign out when they leave.  Every step of the way we intentionally designed MINCHA to feel comfortable, easy and guilt free. 

The Music of N’ilah – Part One

Cantor Barbara R. Finn, R.J.E.
January 30, 2014

By Cantor Barbara R. Finn

Yom Kippur is bookended by music and liturgy that speak to us on an emotional level.  We often cannot explain it; it is simple yet powerfully spiritual, reaching into our souls with a fervor that would leave us empty were we to...

Slam Dunk: Fantasy Sports as a Portal to New Youth Group Models

January 29, 2014
The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor. By Beryl Trauth-Jurman Fantasy Basketball. That is how Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation in Reston VA, decided to solve two problems. I had just started as the Youth Activities Coordinator here at NVHC and after our first two or three events, I noticed that there was a certain group of kids who were never coming to events. These kids were interested in sports, but the synagogue was not able to host sports activities. That meant these kids never came to events. We knew we weren't going to reach them with our existing menu of programming, and I wanted to find a way to include them in something, meaning we would probably need something new. I had a conversation with the education director and the rabbi, and we decided to start a fantasy basketball league—the logic being that, if we could not hold actual sports activities the next best thing would be fantasy sports. The idea worked: the league is made up entirely of kids who do not come to other events and one kid who is unable to attend other events at the synagogue due to scheduling conflicts. The league has given us some common ground—a Jewish community for these young teens who do not otherwise participate in one, and an opportunity for me to connect with them, even remotely. The league now accounts for twenty percent of the total participants in youth programming. That is the first problem that fantasy basketball solved.

Worship Without Music?!

January 28, 2014
By Jerry Kaye Can you imagine a worship service these days without a cantor, a song leader, or even a band? There is nowhere in the liberal Jewish community where music isn't an integral and heartening part of worship. Today, Jewish music is readily available on CDs and MP3s, and even on YouTube, which hosts thousands of new Jewish music recordings as well as the classics. Were worship and music always intertwined? Is music as important in the traditional community? Can you pray without a guitar or keyboard? As far back as biblical times, Psalms describes praising God with the harp, lute and timbrel, thus giving us a great musical inheritance. However, we don't know the melodies that David sang or the songs that surrounded Solomon.

NFTY: Never Forget Those Years ...or Friendships

January 25, 2014
Tania Levy Medney, LIFTY '73, continues to find ways to stay in touch with her NFTY peers. After attending an event celebrating NFTY peer, Jay Levine's retirement, she shared some of her best advice about building your NFTY network and reconnecting.  How have

NFTY Takes on Malaria

January 21, 2014
By Olivia Kessler Did you know malaria is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito carrying the Plasmodium parasite and kills 600,000 people every year? Did you know malaria exists in 109 countries around the world, making half of the world's population susceptible to the disease? Did you know that every 60 seconds a child dies from malaria? Neither did I. Then I learned that since 2007, the Union for Reform Judaism has partnered with Nothing But Nets, a United Nations campaign to raise awareness and funding to prevent malaria. To date, the URJ’s campaign has raised more than $750,000 and sent more than 75,000 insecticide treated bed-nets to those at risk in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Amazed by the success of this campaign, Jackson Dooling, NFTY Southwest’s Social Action Vice President, and I were determined to mobilize NFTYites to join us in the fight against malaria.