Eight Ways Your Congregation Can Be More Welcoming for the High Holidays

The High Holidays are a special time in the Jewish calendar, a time when many unaffiliated Jews (those who are not members of a congregation) may feel the need to connect to the broader Jewish community. Even if they don’t attend synagogue throughout the year, the High Holidays may inspire these individuals and their families […]

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An Update on “Stop the Sirens”

As you know, the conflict in Gaza has intensified. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the Israeli soldiers killed in action, with our brothers and sisters in Israeli, and with all who are in danger. When the conflict began, the Reform Movement made a decision to join Stop the Sirens, a community-wide […]

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Saperstein: Recent Spate of Anti-Semitic Incidents Prompts Alarm

In response to recent anti-Semitic episodes in Los Angeles and Paris, as well as incidents across the United States and Europe, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement: “We are deeply disturbed by the recent violent anti-Semitic and anti-Israel uprisings. Over the weekend, rioters, wielding bats […]

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Men of Reform Judaism Announces New Strategic Plan

The Men of Reform Judaism (MRJ) met recently in New Orleans for their annual convention where they announced significant organizational changes to better advocate for and support compelling strategies to engage and connect the men of Reform Judaism. MRJ is the affiliate organization of the Union for Reform Judaism that is focused on connecting and […]

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NFTY in the early 2000s: Years of Change and Engagement



By Hope Chernak, RJE

The early 2000s provided many opportunities for teen voices and NFTY,the Reform Jewish Youth Movement initiatives to be implemented in the Reform movement. I joined the NFTY staff in 1999 and witnessed incredible moments during my eight years with NFTY’s teen leadership

The first time I saw firsthand how our teens could influence our Reform Movement was in 2001 when NFTY President Ashley Habas established teen task forces at Kutz Camp to work on NFTY programming. The topics covered globalization, teen issues, Israel, and life after NFTY (i.e., college life). The task forces presented the opinions of teens from across North America to the adult leadership of the Reform Movement, which impacted their decisions and shaped NFTY programming. At the same time, NFTY began to use online list servs; monitored by the regional officers, they collected the content to create a NFTY website which became a forum for all Temple Youth Groups to post and share resources. Read more…

The Century Ends: NFTY Music of the 90s



by Cantor Rosalie Boxt

Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong decade. I have often wondered what it would have been like to be a songleader with my mentors, my friends, and my “heroes” in the 70s. Yet, as I reflect back on the time when I was a young songleader, during the years when I was in the thick of camp songleading, I see the 90s as the most extraordinary time to have been a part of NFTY – the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, and Jewish music. At Goldman Union Camp I learned everything there was to know about songleading from the greats of community singing ― Dan Nichols, Ken Chasen, Andy Vogel, Dave Snyder. When I left there to join the leadership team of Kutz Camp in 1995, I had no idea of the scope and breadth of Jewish music. In the mid and late 90s, as a songleader at Kutz, I first became aware of the diverse and extensive camp and regional musical traditions. Before that I thought the Midwest was all there was! What became clear to me at Kutz in the 90s was that there was an entire canon of NFTY music ― a repertoire that spanned the miles and borders of state and region, of accent and weather. And yet there was also music that was specific to each region, each songleader, each camp’s particular passion in text or music.

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6 Ways URJ Camps are Leading the Way in Jewish Camping



The Forward recently shared “Jewish Camp Trend-Spotting: 10 Ways a Summer Ritual Is Changing,” detailing how the world of Jewish camping is evolving – and the Reform Jewish Movement’s 15 summer camps are leading the way! Here are a few ways URJ Camps are on the cutting edge:

  1. Specialized Programs: Specialty camps allow us to expand our geographic and programmatic reach to cohorts of young people who otherwise would be unlikely to enroll in Jewish camp.
  • Ours is the only Jewish camping system that received funding in both rounds of the Specialty Camps Incubator program. An initiative of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, the Jim Joseph Foundation, and the AVI CHAI Foundation, these grants support the creation of new specialty camps to engage more children in the Jewish camp experience.
  • At URJ 6 Points Sports Academy (NC), Jewish athletes participate in top-level sports training in a Reform Jewish camp setting. This year’s registration was the highest in the camp’s five-year history.

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Mother and Daughter Reflect on Going to Kutz



by Julie Hollander Eichelbaum and Emma Eichelbaum

As the URJ Kutz Camp enters its 50th year, campers emerge as members of a vast network of Kutz alumni. For a select few of those campers, the alumni network includes their parents, also products of NFTY’s campus for Reform Jewish teens. Emma Eichelbaum (Kutz ’12-‘14) and her mom Julie Hollander Eichelbaum (Kutz ’80 and ’81) are quintessential examples of generational involvement in NFTY, URJ Camps, and Reform Jewish Life. Following are some cross-generational reflections of Emma and Julie, and their thoughts on growing as leaders at Kutz.

Emma: Being a second-generation camper at the URJ Kutz Camp is different from being a second-generation camper at any other URJ camp. It wasn’t our parents or its geographic location that brought me or my mom to Kutz, but our involvement in Reform Jewish leadership. My mother went to Kutz in 1980 as a leader of her Temple Youth Group, and again in 1981 as a member of the NFTY Social Action Network. The Program Room still features a picture of her with her fellow Kutz Campers, displayed prominently for the camp community to see. I was elected to my regional board as a high school junior and had my first experience at Kutz as a participant at Mechina, NFTY’s regional leadership preparation event. It was there, with the rest of the NFTY General Board, that I first saw my then-17-year-old mother smiling in that picture, giving me a connection to this new camp and youth group experience. No matter the board position, for both of us Kutz was a camping match made in heaven. Read more…

WUPJ Statement on the Arrest of Six Suspects in Connection with Murder of Palestinian Teen



The following statement comes from leaders of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, in response to news of the arrest of six individuals in conjunction with the murder of a Palestinian teenager:

Six suspects, members of a Jewish extremist cell according to the Shin Bet security agency, were arrested Sunday in connection with the horrific murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir. His burned body was found in the Jerusalem forest on Wednesday morning. The World Union for Progressive Judaism joins the Israeli government and all people of conscience the world over in condemning this ghastly act.

Now, as is the case with any democracy, Israel has the opportunity to prove that justice is blind and that extremism and vigilantism has no place in an enlightened society. Read more…

NFTY in the 90s



by Rabbi Eve Rudin

CAFTY, CFTY, CNYFTY, CRaFTY, JFTY, LIFTY, MAFTY, MoVFTY, MSTY, NEFTY, NELFTY, NOFTY, OVFTY, PAFTY, SCFTY, SEFTY, SOFTY, SWFTY, TOFTY, WEFTY, WESTY.

Those are the names of the 21 NFTY Regions I grew up with in the 80s. And, yes, we used to have contests to see who could recite them the fastest. When I was active on the North American level, I knew what each “–FTY” stood for.

But there was a problem. There’s a saying in Hebrew, hu meiveen yaveen (he who understands understands), and in this case, only an elite few knew that all 21 regions were actually all part of one organization―a Movement. Stories would pour into the NFTY office about people who would meet on college campuses and say, for example, “I grew up in MSTY” or “I grew up in CRaFTY.” While they would “kinda sorta” figure out that they were similar groups, it was never explicitly clear that they were, in fact, part of the same Youth Movement, one with a shared mission, vision, and set of core values. Read more…

Reform Jewish Movement Mourns the Deaths of Murdered Israeli Teens



News broke a few hours ago that Israeli officials had discovered the bodies of missing Israeli teens Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach. Our hearts are broken by this devastating development.

Reform Movement voices from around the world have expressed their sadness at today’s news. To read statements from various entities within our Movement, click on the links below:

Jewish poet Alden Solovy wrote a powerful, painful Yizkor prayer titled “They Were Boys,” which congregations and Jewish communities may want to recite together this Shabbat in addition to Kaddish.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the three murdered teenagers and with all who yearn for peace. Zichronam l’ivracha — may their memories be for a blessing.

Conversations with Engagement Innovators: Alison Kur



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.

Have you ever wondered about the stories and people behind major innovations in our field?  The Journal of Youth Engagement is kicking off an occasional series, Conversations with Engagement Innovators, which will give us a window into the thinking and processes that inspire, motivate, and drive these individuals.

For our first Conversation, Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, URJ Director of Youth Engagement, spoke with Alison Kur, one of the 2014 recipients of The Covenant Foundation’s Award for Excellence in Jewish Education.  The Covenant Foundation’s recognition of Ali, who holds the position of Executive Director of Jewish Living at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, MA, spotlights her as an innovator not just in the Reform movement but throughout the field of Jewish Education.  Below are highlights of the conversation or you can listen to a recording of the entire interview. Read more…

Journal of Youth Engagement

Move Confirmation to the 12th Grade Now!



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 Fred Guttman and Rabbi Andy Koren

If the road to lifelong Jewish learning begins with religious school, then the widespread practice of ending formal Jewish education with tenth-grade Confirmation is a dead end. 10th-grade Confirmation prevents our teens from integrating their religious schooling with other key Jewish teenage experiences including local Tikkun Olam efforts and serving as religious school Madrichim or counselors at a URJ camp. Read more…

Journal of Youth Engagement

An Intergenerational Shabbat Experience: Experimenting Toward Our Future



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 Cantor Chanin Becker, Rabbi Jeffrey Brown and Rabbi Wendy Pein

The community we are privileged to serve, Scarsdale Synagogue Temples Tremont and Emanu-El (SSTTE), is in a time of transition.  In 2012, our longtime Senior Rabbi became Rabbi Emeritus and in 2013, our longtime temple Educator retired.  As a new clergy team, we have spent the last year listening to laypeople and collaborating on values-based goal-setting as we plan for our future.

One area that has emerged as a priority is Shabbat worship.

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NFTY at 75 – Think Big



By Rabbi Josh Weinberg

A Jew who participates in the suffering of his nation and its fate, but does not join in its destiny, which is expressed in a life of Torah and mitzvot, destroys the essence of Judaism and injures his own uniqueness. By the same token, a Jew who is observant but does not feel the hurt of the nation, and who attempts to distance himself from Jewish fate, desecrates his Jewishness.

Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik Kol Dodi Dofek, (based on RaMBaM’s Hilkhot Teshuvah 3:11)

At the first CFTY leadership training institute that I ever attended, I took away a simple and direct meta-message: Think big. Don’t settle for mediocrity, and stop doing the same things over and over again. It was an exciting time, just days after the famous handshake on the White House lawn between Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat, and Bill Clinton as they came together to sign the Declaration of Principles – part of the Oslo accords. CFTY quickly got organized and put together 5,000 signatures on our “Megillat Shalom,” which affirmed our commitment and support for (what we thought would be a lasting) peace in the Middle East. Signatures in hand, we took our scrolls to New York. With the help of then ARZA Director Rabbi Ammi Hirsch, we presented them to both the UN’s Israeli Ambassador and the UN’s official Palestinian Mission.

For a youth movement, ‘think big’ means not accepting the status quo. During my NFTY years, and especially while I was president of the Chicago Area region, we spent a lot of time talking about what it meant to be a Reform Jew. We debated the oft-quoted seemingly cliché catch phrase “choice through knowledge.” We realized that for most of our peers, that phrase symbolized a convenient way to rationalize a do-whatever-you-want approach. In our attempt to ‘think big,’ we wondered what it would mean for members of our movement to take on more ritual observance. Would NFTY make it possible for teens to attend events if they preferred not to drive on Shabbat? Would NFTY accommodate those who kept a different and more stringent policy of kashrut? Would NFTY engage Hebrew speakers or did “inclusion” encourage, if not enforce, a lowest common denominator approach to Jewish life? I knew that the next chapter in my life would be dedicated to answering those questions.

Of course, instead of answers, came more questions. Much has been written about the effects of long-term Israel programs on Jewish identity and involvement. For the past 14 years, the Birthright Israel program (not a long-term experience) has defined the success of a visit to Israel as a force in creating Jewish identity, the core motivating factor behind the existence of the program. My time on EIE and subsequent return visits turned out to be the most meaningful and formative of my identity. I came to feel that we in the Reform movement had missed the boat, and were playing ‘catch up’ to the greatest drama of our people’s collective existence ― one that I wasn’t going to miss. Zionism, for me, became the manifestation of my identity search. Identifying with Gordon, Ahad Ha’am, Ben Gurion, Kook, and Magnes, I found that there is no Judaism without Israel, and that Israel is a deeply Jewish entity.

In Israel, I found a place where the meta-narrative of the Jewish people is common knowledge, and where the Jewish public culture eliminates the age-old Diasporic minority complex. It was NFTY that brought me to Israel, and it would be through NFTY that I would attempt to impart my love of the Land, the importance of peoplehood, and a deep connection to Jewish culture, literacy, and tradition, by leading trips and teaching Jewish history to younger NFTYites.

I was fortunate to have mentors who taught me how to teach, including Baruch Kraus, Rabbis David Forman z”l and Lee Diamond, Uri Feinberg, and Amy Geller. They showed me what it means to care deeply for what Israel is, and even more for what it could be.

Having come on aliyah, I realized that simply living in Israel was not, as some may argue, a substitute for Jewish living, engagement, and mitzvot. It was incumbent on me to figure out where my ‘red lines’ were and what being Jewish would look like in Israel. Would I still go to synagogue? Would I drive on Shabbat? Would I make ritual and observance decisions differently in Israel than I would have stateside? My answer was yes.

Joining the Reform movement in Israel and congregation Kehilat Kol HaNeshama, I assumed a different level of knowledge and background. Welcomed into a community of youth-movement graduates who had come to Israel looking for the same things that I was seeking, I felt at home. I wanted to become part of this movement that had so much to offer, not only to an ex-Patriot Zionist olim like myself, but to Israelis, for whom the old-time polarizing dichotomy between religious and secular no longer answered the needs of the mainstream.

As I sung Jeff Klepper’s “Shalom Rav” while leading Kabbalat Shabbat in a Kiryat Gat boarding school it hit me. I realized that this familiar melody I had grown up with at camp and NFTY, composed by a Reform cantor, was evoking similar feelings in a group of Israeli kids of Ethiopian, North African, and Russian origin ― who had never been part of NFTY, gone to camp, or heard of the composer. At that moment I understood that it was time to take my Reform Zionism to another level. Aliyah was one step. Though I was a century too late to drain the swamps and build the kibbutzim, it was the time to join our movement to help build Reform communities in Israel and offer religious alternatives to those who were searching.

Today, as the President of ARZA, I think back to the simple direct message I got as a teenager. We must think big; we must not settle for mediocrity, and we must utilize our strengths ― to build community and find the right formula for religious existence. Learning from the magic and strength of Israel we must build a Jewish society, and continue to challenge and further what it means to be Jewish in the Jewish state. Fortunately, we can do this together, since our relationship with our Israeli movement is growing and becoming stronger. My single dream for every Jewish high school student is to receive the same gift that I was given – the gift of time and study in Israel. Let’s use these experiences to build and to be built, and not take “no” for an answer.

Joshua Weinberg is the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA).

5 Ways NFTY Teens are Helping the Reform Movement “Make it Big”



I have a dirty little secret. I’m a junkie, I’m addicted to NPR and LinkedIn. Today I’m going to confess my LinkedIn addiction, not so much for the networking but for the information digests they provide based on career interests. This week, I came across “5 Signs You’re Going to Make it Big One Day.” Thinking, “Who doesn’t want to make it big?” I gave it a gander.

In it, the author identified the following five traits:

  1. You’ve got a dream (a big one!)
  2. You’ve got a road map, but you’re prepared to take detours.
  3. You’re extremely curious.
  4. You’re a little cocky (just a little).
  5. You realize failure is a minor setback, not a game changer.

Last week, I spent the day with a group of about 150+ teens at URJ Kutz Camp as part of the NFTY regional board training program called Mechina. Mechina, the Hebrew word for preparation, is a week-long experience that brings together Jewish teens from across North America to learn how to be great leaders.

Read more…

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



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. Read more…

Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ Letter to Delegates at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly



Copies of this letter are being given to delegates at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly in Detroit, MI, who will be voting this week on several Israel-focused resolutions related to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)

Dear Friend,

As the president of America’s largest Jewish denomination, representing 1.5 million North American Jews, it is my honor to join you at your General Assembly.

I have come here to Detroit with an important message about strengthening our alliance. I look forward to discussing this matter with you in person, but it is of such heartfelt concern to me, and so many millions of American Jews, that I am taking the extra step to write you a detailed letter.

Like yours, our community yearns for peace and justice for all peoples. Like you, we pride ourselves on our social justice work and interfaith relations. Your creation-care and social service projects throughout the world are nothing short of exemplary. We have worked closely with your Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. for more than 50 years, and partnered with clergy from your churches in interfaith coalitions and dialogue programs. These collaborations are based on mutual respect and understanding – and, at their best, are grounded in the core rule of coalitional relationships. In order to have a friend, you must be a friend and seek common ground. That is especially true when a partner’s survival is at stake. Read more…