Communities Taking Hold of Youth Engagement



To celebrate Shavuot last week I joined with friends at a nearby community-wide tikkun leil Shavuot (an all night Torah study) hosted by our congregation, Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn. As in so many communities, it was a lively scene as people gathered together, listened, learned, questioned and challenged each other. This inclusive form of community gathering is a foundation of Reform Judaism and has served as a core element for the Campaign for Youth Engagement.

Following the launch of the campaign at the Biennial in 2011, the URJ began reflecting on NFTY, URJ camps, Mitzvah Corps, Israel programs, and all other aspects of our youth engagement work. At the same time, many congregations and communities across North America began their own process of gathering, listening, learning, questioning and challenging their own work of youth engagement. In just over a year, the Campaign for Youth Engagement has supported more than 150 congregations and institutions, and over 300 clergy, professionals, and community leaders as they invest in the process of change around youth engagement.

  • All the Reform congregations in the Pittsburgh area came together to create NFTY Pittsburgh, a city-wide effort to unite and support the youth groups at seven Reform congregations. The rabbis of these congregations wanted to build upon this teen-led effort and recently hired a professional to support their work.
  • In Washington, D.C., 11 congregations came together on two different occasions to jointly consider youth engagement efforts at their individual congregations and communally. Challenging assumptions and visioning possibilities, 6 educators, representing 5 congregations have joined together to develop a multi-year proposal to invest in reviewing, evaluating, learning, and developing a youth engagement strategy together.
  • During three gatherings in Chicago, 40 individuals representing 29 congregations and institutions came together to develop shared language around youth engagement, explore collaboration, and develop internal plans for strengthening their work around youth engagement.

This is just a sampling of the efforts in communities across North America to gather, listen, learn, question and challenge youth engagement efforts. There is energy and excitement in these communities. There are energetic conversations and disagreements. There are new theories and new partnerships. To reach our goal of engaging a majority of our youth by 2020, we will need all of this (and more)!

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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. Bradley is currently pursuing a doctorate in Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Davidson School. 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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