URJ to Expand Campaign for Youth Engagement with New Programming and Grants

Initiative seeks to increase teen engagement in Movement to 50 Percent by 2020

October 3, 2012, New York, NY - With a continued goal of increasing the level of Jewish teen engagement within its Movement, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) today announced expansion of its national Campaign for Youth Engagement. The expansion, funded by a matching grant of $194,050 from the Jim Joseph Foundation, involves development of a strategic plan that includes new innovation grants, pilot programming, increased human resources, and program expansion focusing on teen engagement and learning within the Reform Movement.

"We seek to build the most compelling programs in partnership with our synagogues all over North America to involve and inspire many more young Jews to live Jewish lives," said URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs. "We can play a central role in transforming the current culture, so that the majority of Jewish teens and their families stay involved in meaningful Jewish life after b'nai mitzvah. We have seen initial positive results from the Campaign, and we are excited to expand its innovative approaches to Jewish learning and engagement."

The Campaign specifically attempts to increase engagement of post-b'nai mitzvah teens from 20 percent to more than 50 percent by 2020. The URJ will work to build stronger connections between synagogues, its network of summer camps, Israel experiences, service learning programs and NFTY, its North American youth movement. Additionally, the Campaign will partner both inside and outside the Reform Movement to create new opportunities to engage youth in areas such as the arts, leadership development and community service. A crucial component of the Campaign will include an evaluation of all initiatives, to measure and assess success. The URJ will look closely at staff recruitment and retention, professional development, and assess the quantity and quality of the participation of teens themselves.

A vision team of nearly 70 Jewish professionals (rabbis, cantors, educators from camp, youth programs and early childhood) and lay leaders (including teens and parents) has conducted more than 1,000 conversations across North America and studied the latest research about youth engagement. Building on their findings, the Campaign seeks to transform and strengthen the relationship between teens, their peers, their families, their congregations, the Reform Movement and the Jewish people. Expansion of the Campaign will strengthen post-b'nai mitzvah engagement in synagogues, day schools, camps, and youth programs throughout North America.

"There is broad support across the Reform Movement and beyond to retain more youth and families," adds Jacobs. "The Campaign is designed to make a major difference in the long-term engagement of youth and families and to build the capacity of the Reform Movement to act together on important issues and values."

Indicative of the Campaign's focus is the recently launched B'nai Mitzvah Revolution, an innovative pilot program that seeks to deepen the experience of middle school children and their families as they prepare for and then celebrate a b'nai mitvah. A joint project of Hebrew Union College with the URJ, the initiative addresses the challenges faced by many synagogues as a result of the b'nai mitzvah celebration driving Jewish learning of youth prior to age 13.

"During the previous two years, the Campaign for Youth Engagement began to address the urgent need for effective engagement, and demonstrated the vast potential for future success," says URJ Director of Youth Engagement Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, who began his position full-time at the URJ on September 4, 2012. "By investing in and training educators, building partnerships enabling engagement in communal Jewish life, and investing in immersive Jewish experiences to help youth and families navigate their Jewish journeys, the URJ is prioritizing its youth and holding itself accountable to fulfilling these commitments. This grant opens new doors as we more clearly define our priorities, begin experimentation, and lay a solid foundation to continue building the Campaign."

To learn more about the Campaign for Youth Engagement, visit urj.org/cye