At URJ Summer Youth Programs, the Heat is On!



As I write this, more than 12,000 youth, teens, college students, and young adults are participating in our summer programs. Our diverse summer line-up includes the URJ Camps, NFTY in Israel trips, NFTY-EIE High School in Israel, RAC Machon Kaplan college internship program and KESHER Taglit-Birthright Israel trips. Staffing these programs are more than 1,000 college students and young adults. These summer experiences are an important part of our youth engagement work-creating transformative experiences for participants, staff, and families. Here are some highlights of the work we have been doing to expand, connect, deepen and improve upon these offerings:

Mitzvah Corps: Deepening Impact

  • Now in our 50th year of Mitzvah Corps programming, our teens continue to be drawn to immersive social justice experiences. Each of our Mitzvah Corps programs is at maximum capacity this year. In addition to programs in New Jersey, New Orleans, Costa Rica and at Kutz Camp, we have piloted a program in Nicaragua and are developing year round Mitzvah Corps programming that will be launched in 2014.
  • To increase awareness about the programs and recruit from a broader base, Jonah Freelander and Alexa Broida, Mitzvah Corps coordinators, traveled extensively to congregations and NFTY regions.
  • For the first time, the Mitzvah Corps staff training was held at the RAC. We utilized the RAC’s expertise to deepen our staff’s knowledge base around the specific justice and advocacy issues at their site location.

URJ Camps: Expanding Our Reach

  • More than 400 clergy, educators, and youth professionals serve as faculty at URJ Camps engaging with youth from their home congregations and beyond. This provides important opportunities for colleagues to partner and connect around youth. Both Miriam Chilton, Director of Strategy, Operations and Finance for Youth, Camp and Israel Programs, and I facilitated conversations with faculty at our camps on the potential strategic scenarios we have been developing.
  • URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy , supported by the Foundation for Jewish Camp and funded through the generosity of the Jim Joseph Foundation and AVICHAI, will launch during the summer of 2014!  This is our second camp that draws from a North American participant base and targets a special interest group (Following the success of URJ 6 Points Sports Academy which was launched in 2011). Eric Lightman, our new camp director, is working with Paul Reichenbach, senior camp directors, and the Boston community to ensure that the camp will be an outstanding addition to our camping portfolio.

NFTY in Israel and NFTY-EIE Summer: Bringing the Trip Home

  • I am so pleased to announce that Rabbi Yehudit Werchow, who has served as our Movement’s Shlicha (Israeli Emissary) for the past four years will now assume a new position as Director of Israel Engagement for the URJ. As part of her new role, Yehudit will work with congregations and communities to connect Israel experiences into the larger context of youth engagement.
  • We welcome Alona Nir, our new Camp and Israel Shlicha. Alona, a rabbinical student studying at HUC-JIR, comes to us with extensive experience working with youth and Israel education.
  • For the first time, teens from Camp Newman participated in a NFTY in Israel trip. These 48 11th graders from across California represent the continued growth of youth engagement on the west coast.

I hope that you will read the many wonderful, personal stories from participants, parents, faculty, and staff of all of our youth programs and sign-up for our ‘Clipboard’ email.

We look forward to our continued work together as we seek to deepen, expand, and connect these summer engagement opportunities.

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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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