The Tent: Helping Jewish Leaders Look Through New Prisms

Leading a congregation can be a daunting task. Whether you lead your congregation as clergy, professional staff, or lay leadership, we all do our sacred work through different prisms. We work through the prism of spirituality. The Torah and other teachings of our ancestors guide our communities with holiness and wisdom. We work through the […]

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Reform Leaders Protest Klinghoffer Opera

In response to recent controversy over the Metropolitan Opera’s production The Death of Klinghoffer, Reform Movement leaders sent the following letter to Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb: Dear Mr. Gelb, We join with other Jewish leaders in expressing our disappointment and dismay about the staging by the Metropolitan Opera of “The Death of Klinghoffer.” […]

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First (Probably) Annual Rosh HaShanah Sermon Round-Up

What did Reform rabbis talk to their congregations about this Rosh HaShanah? Based on my totally non-scientific survey, Israel was far and away the most popular topic. (Read on for links to sermons by rabbis Block, Bob, Davidson, Gropper, Gurvis, A. Hirsch, Kipnes, Kaufman, Ottenstein, and Prosnit.) That is true many years, and given the […]

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The Days of Awe, Community, and “Relational Judaism”

Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, a distinguished Hasid, told a parable about the Days of Awe of a man who is lost in the woods. Just when he is losing hope, he runs into another person and is filed with joy, exclaiming “Brother, tell me which is the right way. I have been wandering for days.” His […]

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Saying YES to Youth



by Rosanne Selfon

Over 100 years ago, 156 American women representing 5,000 women in 51 sisterhoods gathered to found the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (NFTS), renamed Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) in 1993. These women united to fortify their Jewish identities, perform mitzvot, and collectively support the Reform movement. One of their first endeavors was to establish a scholarship fund to benefit Hebrew Union College (HUC) students. Not only did the women successfully raise scholarship money, they built the Sisterhood dorm on HUC-Cincinnati’s campus. Their largesse expanded during the Great Depression when they financially rescued the college. To this day, WRJ is HUC’s largest cumulative scholarship donor.

In 1955, NFTS determined that broader support for youth was essential. The women established the YES Fund to underwrite youth activities, educational projects, and special initiatives. The acronym YES became the fund’s familiar name (Y for youth, E for education, S for special projects). Women’s generosity to the YES Fund continues today.

During the last decade of the 20th century, WRJ produced a video to showcase its accomplishments, in which Rabbi Alan Smith, former director of the UAHC (now URJ) Youth Department, comments,

Ask any of the kids what the YES Fund is, and they can immediately tell you—YES means Youth, Education, and Special Projects. The YES Fund makes things happen. Every kid in NFTY knows what the YES Fund is.

Was Rabbi Smith correct? Well, perhaps he exaggerated just a bit.

Why would teenagers know anything about the YES Fund, sisterhood, NFTS or WRJ? NFTYites know their history. They proudly note that NFTY was created due to persistent women. For many years, Jean Wise May, daughter of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, badgered Union leaders, lay and professional, to maintain youth on the Union’s agenda. Her distinguished pedigree often gained her entry into the hallowed halls of the male-dominated Union leadership. May, a member of the first women’s college basketball team, was a proven powerhouse who advocated for women’s suffrage and even women’s ordination. Taking on the Union’s leadership to create a national Reform youth movement became her passion—she simply wore them down!

In 1926, Jean Wise May convinced NFTS leaders to establish a committee to foster an organization of temple-based youth groups; it became a permanent committee a year later and funding followed. The women also understood the necessity of creating leadership-training opportunities. In each instance, funding always followed ideas.

In 1930, NFTS earmarked $5,000 to support the salary of a full-time youth division at the Union. In 1937, the NFTS Board of Directors endorsed the creation of a national youth movement. Never underestimate the power of a single person, let alone thousands of Jewish mothers.

How does the YES Fund enable today’s youth? Most recently, WRJ pledged $75,000 to fund NFTY6 Fellows, an innovative program designed to target sixth graders. After Hurricane Sandy, WRJ provided $10,000 to underwrite attendance at NFTY events for teens affected by the hurricane. Last summer, WRJ granted $5,000 for girls’ scholarships to attend the URJ Six Points Sci-Tech Academy in its inaugural year. Youth programs and projects like these are underwritten by the YES Fund donations every year.

How does this affect individual teens and their families? Consider Stacey Kapushy and her daughters Maddie, a senior, and Sammie, a freshman who live in Lancaster, PA, which has a small Jewish population, a strong Reform congregation, a rabbi who passionately advocates for youth, and an engaged sisterhood. Maddie, president of her local temple youth group, has attended Camp Harlam, multiple NFTY events, and EIE High School in Israel. Sammie, new to NFTY this year, has attended Camp Harlam, Six Points Sports Academy, and Six Points Sci-Tech Academy. Both girls have received significant financial support enabling their participation.

“The WRJ Sci-Tech Scholarship allowed me to focus on science, to be with girls who had that same focus, and to find a connection point in our Jewishness,” said Sammie. “This is the place I want to return to, my escape.”

Maddie notes, “Sisterhood provided accessibility to all of my experiences. I wouldn’t have been able to participate without its financial support. Stipends have made a huge difference for my family.”

And what does Mom Stacey, a full-time working, single mom who is currently sisterhood president, say?

Because of the Yes Fund and the generosity of our sisterhood, I am rearing two daughters whose Jewish identity has been intentionally developed. They will grow up to be contributing members of society, strong, confident and morally grounded. They have experienced a tutorial in giving back. I know they will pay it forward when they can. Thank you WRJ and sisterhood for the critical life lessons you have taught my daughters.

Indeed, the YES Fund impacts NFTYites individually as well as collectively. The YES Fund reflects our priorities: women understand that the future of the Jewish people resides in creating a passion for Judaism in young people. In the next hundred years, WRJ pledges to continue what its founding matriarchs initiated, a partnership with our youth to build a dynamic Jewish future.

Rosanne Selfon served as WRJ President from 2005-2009. Most recently, she was WRJ Centennial Chair and is a lifetime member of the WRJ Board of Directors. She has served on the URJ Board of Trustees since 1994 and today is Chair of the Camp Harlam Council and Vice-Chair of the NAC, North American Camping and Israel Programs.

Correction: In the September 9th edition of 10 Minutes of Torah, “Mitzvah Corps: The Power of Community, The Power of Self”, there was an oversight in noting Mitzvah Corps Portland’s partnership with Tivnu: Building Justice. Tivnu offers a gap year program in Portland for young adults interested in a Jewish, hands-on approach to social justice.

“And you shall order schnitzel…”



By Bradley Egel

People frequently talk about generational leadership. The Hebrew phrase, l’dor vador, literally means “from generation to generation,” and is most often applied to the handing down of leadership from one generation to the next. If a person is lucky enough to be present at a bar or bat mitzvah, they likely will see the symbolic “handing of the Torah” from one generation to the next. It is an ideal. It is a wonderful hope: that the next generation of Jewish leaders will take the skills and talents their mentors have passed onto them, and in turn, nourish and enrich themselves enough to continue this leadership chain as they go through life’s journey. Read more…

A Pilgrimage for Our Day



by Rabbi Josh Weinberg

Mark, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of the Eternal [to last] seven days: a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day.

Leviticus 23:39

Walk around Zion, circle it; count its towers, take note of its ramparts; go through its citadels, that you may recount it to a future age.

Psalm 48:13-14

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Awesome Power In Numbers



By Jonathan Cohen and Beth Rodin

The first “modern” NFTY Convention was held in 1983. I was there. A sophomore from Tupelo, Mississippi, getting to attend Convention was an unbelievable thrill. I still carry vivid memories from that Convention, not the least of which being our group – the biggest number of Jewish teens, make that Jews – I had ever seen in one place at one time, singing together on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Wow. Read more…

Engaging Effective Madrichim Training



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.

Many congregations engage teens as madrichim (“guides”) in Religious School classrooms to serve as role models of continued Jewish involvement, to assist with administrative tasks, and often to lead activities and discussions with students.  Whether your madrichim program involves 10 teens or 100, one of the most important aspects of building and maintaining a strong program is the quality of training provided to the teens.

When developing a madrichim training program, the best place to start is by thinking about what you value in your own professional development. We justify it by saying things like: “Isn’t the important thing that the teens are in the building, engaged in Jewish living and learning?  Don’t ‘required trainings’ provide an unnecessary barrier to participation?”  Well, yes and no.  For most teens, their work in the Religious School is the first job they’ll ever have, especially since many madrichim programs include students as young as 8th grade.  In addition to prepping for assigned tasks, most teens need help developing basic skills in communication, working under supervision, goal setting, and time management.  These are the foundation to their success. Read more…

MASA: A Journey to Family Engagement



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.

On a Friday night this past spring, 26 families shared Shabbat in 7 homes across New York City. They said the blessings, ate their festive meals, and were joined by synagogue staff, who led the groups in activities and songs. This was the fourth such dinner last year.  Remarkably, these families were satisfying their Religious School requirement.

A growing number of families at Temple Shaaray Tefila are taking part in MASA (“Journeys” in Hebrew), our Temple’s multi-generational education program, now in its seventh year. It offers year-long family “journeys” centered on Jewish topics, as an alternative to our religious school. As part of the program, parents study both with their children and separately with our education staff and clergy, as well as participate in Shabbat and holiday celebrations together with the goal of enhancing their own knowledge and their ability to teach and model Jewish practice for their children. Read more…

Transformation that Sticks: How to Create Long-Lasting Change in Your Education Programs



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.

In March of 2010, our congregation was approached by Combined Jewish Philanthropies (Greater Boston’s Jewish Federation) and invited to begin a process of transforming our synagogue’s learning programs for children in grades K-5.  We eagerly accepted the offer and began our work with two consultants they provided us from Brandeis University – Rachel Happel (now our Director of K-12 Learning) and Dvora Goodman – who were local experts in experiential Jewish learning.  Together we engaged in a process of reflection, visioning, best practices research, and dreaming of what could be.  The result was our decision to close down our old religious school (which we deemed to be beyond repair) and to launch our new learning and engagement model, Mayim, in the fall of 2012. Read more…

NFTY and BBYO: Two Movements, One Mission



By Ariel Schwartz

NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, and BBYO are two incredible Jewish teen movements that aim to engage Jewish teens across the world. Though they are organized and operate differently, cherish different histories, and engage different types of Jewish teens, ultimately they both work to build a stronger Jewish future. I am proud to be an active member of both BBYO and NFTY. Read more…

Signs of Hope for the Future: A Promising Meeting in Israel



I’m writing from an airplane (for a change!), heading home after an unexpected 36 hours in Israel, including an important meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

I was not planning on being in Israel this week. Natan Sharansky called just before Shabbat with a summons to come to Israel to find a way to make real his dream of “one wall, for one people.” I was in Israel for 30 hours, most of them spent meeting with my extraordinary colleagues Anat Hoffman and Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Israel Religious Action Center, our partners from the Conservative Movement, and Jerry Silverman, the CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. Many of us have been meeting fairly regularly with Avichai Mendelblit, the Israeli Cabinet Secretary who was charged by Prime Minister Netanyahu to find a way to share that holy piece of Jewish spiritual real estate.

To say that negotiating this historic compromise with the Government of Israel and the Orthodox establishment is complicated would be an understatement. Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed our Biennial Convention last December and reaffirmed his commitment saying, Read more…

NFTY Convention Registration Opens October 6th!



Registration for NFTY Convention 2015 and the Youth Summit for congregational professionals and stakeholders will open Monday, October 6th! To make sure your congregation is ready, here are some helpful reminders: Read more…

A Songleader’s Journey



by Rabbi Ramie Arian

Throughout the nearly four decades of my career, I’ve been privileged to serve the Jewish people in a variety of non-congregational rabbinic roles – national director of NFTY, the Reform Jewish youth movement for most of the 1980s, as well as vice president of the Wexner Heritage Foundation, national director of Young Judaea, and founding executive director of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. The Jewish journey of my life has been shaped and molded by many influences; NFTY was among the most important. Read more…

The Power, Growth, and Continued Success of Mitzvah Corps



“Dad, this is amazing,” my daughter exclaimed on a phone call home from Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua this summer. “There are so many kids on my program who have never heard of NFTY before!” You may think this comment would’ve been discouraging to me: What are we doing wrong that these kids have never heard of NFTY?! To the contrary, I felt the complete opposite.

As the High Holidays approach, I’ve been reflecting on my foremost dream for the URJ’s Campaign of Youth Engagement: to exponentially increase the number of teens who are engaged in Jewish life. We had an incredible summer, and one of our strongest accomplishments was the skyrocketing success of Mitzvah Corps, which offers hands-on opportunities for teens to pursue advocacy, adventure, and relationship-building in locations such as Costa Rica, Israel, Nicaragua, New Orleans, Portland, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey. Read more…

“You Say You Want a Revolution”



By Mark S. Anshan

I had the privilege of serving as the National Federation of Temple Youth’s president from 1970-1971. In those years, my wife Brenda (from Bradford, PA) and I (a Torontonian) belonged to NELFTY (North Eastern Lakes Federation of Temple Youth), where I had served as president from 1968-1969.

We were witness to many historic and life-changing events during our years in NFTY. During the height of the Vietnam War, as NFTY’s first vice president, I had the unique opportunity of representing NFTY and giving testimony before Senator Edward Kennedy. Many of my friends were dealing with the draft, worried about the numbers they’d receive, and hoping for student deferment (as college students) to avoid serving, rather than going to fight in a war of questionable objectives. Read more…

Reform Leaders Commend President Obama’s Commitment to Stopping the Spread of ISIS



In response to President Obama’s announcement of an expanded military effort against ISIS, Reform Movement leaders issued the following statement:

We commend President Obama’s commitment to stopping the spread of ISIS, which has imposed terror in the Middle East and beyond and whose actions are appalling and offensive to all who value freedom. Already, the Administration has rightly taken action to protect beleaguered religious and ethnic communities suffering under ISIS’s domination. Recognizing that the threat from ISIS is not limited to the region it currently occupies, we applaud President Obama’s leadership in recruiting a global coalition to, in his own words, “degrade and destroy” ISIS. The spread of extremism anywhere is a threat to human rights everywhere, and we pray for all of the victims and their families who have been affected by the ISIS regime. We pray too for the safety of American and coalition troops on the front lines of this effort.  As the U.S. continues to lead the international community in addressing the threat from ISIS, we encourage the President and Congress to work closely together to ensure a united front in this vital effort.

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