Youth Engagement

Chicago's Innovative Approach to Engaging Young Families

November 11, 2014
by Nancy Manewith It all began with an amazing meeting – a discussion, really – with Susan Zukrow, the URJ’s project director for the Chicago Early Engagement Leadership Initiative (CEELI). This new program, funded by the Crown Family Philanthropies and facilitated by the URJ, brings together 12 cross-denominational Jewish early childhood centers from the Chicago area to strengthen their work of engaging young children and their families through program excellence, while building and sustaining meaningful relationships. Though not an educator herself, Susan painstakingly took the time to learn the history and workings of the Chicago Metro area’s Jewish early childhood community, in order to lead this groundbreaking early engagement leadership initiative.

Hello, Muddah, Hello, Faddah: Camp Season is Here!

June 19, 2014
Perhaps some of you remember the incredibly popular camp song by Allan Sherman that was a hit in 1963. It speaks to how connections are quickly made at camp as well as how important it is to be connected back home. We often speak of "bringing camp home" - but really, it is about connecting what we do powerfully during the summer to our congregations and delivering vibrant, profound and authentic Judaism 12-months a year. For campers, congregants, and clergy alike, it is important that we see the summer experience as extensions of our congregations, whether they're in Israel, a URJ camp, Costa Rica, day camp or any other Jewish summer program - even for us who stay home. Four hundred congregations are sending kids to a URJ camp, NFTY Israel trip, or Mitzvah Corps program, and it is exciting to think about being audaciously hospitable to all the participants.

This Should Be a Word: "Congfirmation"

June 17, 2014
Every week I look for the “That Should Be a Word” column in The One-Page Magazine in the Sunday New York Times. The column, if you can call it that, has an amazing knack for coining a good neologism – a new word or phrase. The humor, smarts, and creativity of the words inspired me to create my own neologism – “congfirmation” (pronounced cong-fir-may-shun). Let me explain. I recently had the honor and pleasure to witness my youngest child affirm his faith as part of the confirmation process at our synagogue, Temple Ner Tamid of Bloomfield, N.J. After a year of study with our rabbi, each of the 14 students shared why Judaism was important to them and then publicly affirmed their faith in front of the entire congregation. I started to wonder: “Why, if they are affirming their faith, do we not call the process ‘affirmation’ instead of ‘confirmation’?” Then I asked myself the differences between the two.

Celebrating NFTY's Diamond Jubilee

June 16, 2014
Taking the words of the prophet Joel as the refrain of her 1981 classic song “And The Youth Shall See Visions,” Debbie Friedman captured the role of young people in our Movement:
And the old shall dream dreams, and the youth shall see visions, And our hopes shall rise up to the sky.
For 75 years, the Reform Youth Movement has inspired our young to boldly revitalize Jewish life with their creativity and commitment. Too often adults expect youth to be just like them, but the job of youth is not to be the caretaker of the status quo. We do not need them to download our agendas into their spiritual hard drives, but rather to help us see the Jewish future through their visions. This past February I was privileged to join 35 of our stellar NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) leaders at the BBYO (formerly B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) convention in Dallas. Many people wondered what were we doing there — “Isn’t BBYO the rival of NFTY?” But our remarkable youth leaders did the math: Together, NFTY and BBYO reach only 3.5% of North American Jewish teens. To engage more of their peers, they decided to move beyond rivalry to partnership.

A Formula for Engaging Jewish Teenagers

May 28, 2014
Working with teenagers is simply heartwarming. We experienced this yet again at our recent Havdala Under the Stars, Congregation Or Ami’s year-end gathering of our Triple T (Tracks for Temple Teens) youth program.