What’s New with the Campaign for Youth Engagement?

I just returned from two weeks in Israel focusing on the intersection of Israel and youth engagement… and eating lots of delicious hummus! A dynamic connection to Israel is a critical strategy in all our youth engagement work.

One of the key Israel intersections occurs at the URJ camps. URJ camps host more than 200 Israelis (Shlichim) over the summer creating a unique engagement opportunity for our North American campers to interact with, learn from, and learn about Israel. I was able to spend several days with the URJ Camp Directors and Educators during the training of the Shlichim. The training incorporated innovative experiential and expeditionary techniques that enhance and deepen Israel educational experiences at camp, and another training track provided educators with new approaches and methodologies. A special thank you goes to the Legacy Heritage Foundation for partnering with the URJ for the last five years to ensure Israel is front and center at our camps. (Read more on that from Greene Family Camp director Loui Dobin.)

At HUC-JIR, I hosted a conversation for North American rabbinical, cantorial, and education students who are finishing-up their first year of study in Jerusalem. In addition to an update on the Campaign for Youth Engagement, the students were particularly interested in discussing the importance that professional synagogue leadership plays in youth engagement work and hearing about models of synagogues that place youth at the center. The students offered many suggestions from their own recent experiences as engaged youth including reminding me of the importance of clergy and adult role models for shaping their Jewish journeys.

I was especially pleased to have spent some time with Rabbi Michael Marmur, Vice President of Academic Affairs, HUC-JIR, and Rabbi Rachel Shabat Beit-Halachmi, incoming National Director of Admissions and Recruitment, HUC-JIR, discussing ways in which we can strengthen the partnership between our organizations to benefit youth and the adults who work with youth.

At the end of last week, I gave remarks at HUC-JIR’s graduation ceremony in New York. My message to these graduates was this:

“If we want more engaged youth, one of the most important strategies we have is making sure we have more engaged adults. Our youth are diverse and scattered throughout our communities doing so many different things – we need to surround them with thoughtful, passionate, articulate, committed adults. That is you. You have the power to plant the seeds, to nurture our shared future. We believe that every adult in the movement, professional and volunteer has the potential to change the lives of our youth. We look forward to partnering with you.”

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Rabbi Bradley Solmsen

About Rabbi Bradley Solmsen

Bradley Solmsen serves as the North American Director of Youth Engagement for the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). For eleven years Bradley served as Director of Brandeis University’s Office of High School Programs which includes BIMA, Genesis, and Impact: Boston. Rabbi Solmsen was ordained at The Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and received a masters degree in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He has extensive experience as a Jewish educator in Israel and North America working with teenagers and college students and training Jewish educators. Bradley is married to Aliza Kline and is the proud abba of Ela, Gila and Nomi.

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