My Experience as a URJ Intern
by Julie Wichler
Eight summers of my life were spent at URJ Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, MA. As both a camper and a counselor, I saw this place I love so much from both sides, and I still desire the feeling of “home” I get when I drive through the front gates on Brookside Road. Not only did I find my Jewish Identity through Eisner, but I also figured out what kind of person I wanted to be. I was surrounded by people who are still are some of my biggest role models. I lived each summer in a Kehila Kedosha, a sacred community, where my feelings were valued and my questions always answered.
Growing up, my positive Eisner experience and time at my Reform synagogue in Mahwah, N.J., formed my own sense of Judaism. Until this summer though, they were two completely unrelated yet independently vital aspects of my Jewish life.
Last winter, I applied to be a member of the 2013 Collegiate Leadership Internship (CLIP) cohort. CLIP is a program housed at the Bronfman Center at New York University, which encourages students to learn (and sometimes struggle) together about our Jewish selves as well as being leaders in the Jewish community. When I saw “Union for Reform Judaism” on my CLIP placement email, a wave of comfort to washed over me. What did I have to be nervous about? I grew up in a URJ synagogue. I attended a URJ summer camp. I was ready to learn more.
The URJ welcomed its four CLIP interns, including me, with a bagel breakfast attended by the entire New York staff. Everyone eagerly learned our stories and shared their wisdom, exuding an excitement that matched the ruach of the Eisner counselors and campers on the first day of camp.
Don’t be fooled: Working at the URJ office in New York is certainly different than my work at Eisner. Working 9-5 is a change, but there’s something else different about this organization than others. I figured this out on my first day when I saw “Summer Fun Committee Meeting” pop up on my Outlook calendar. Little did I know, the URJ engages its employees in these summer activities, as well as other employee engagement opportunities throughout the year. As a previous counselor (a.k.a. “Summer Fun Expert”), I was up for the task. I worked not only for my supervisor but with her on many projects, and I could always count on her to take a step back and ask me my perspective. She always filled me in on what was going on, and we explored every learning opportunity.
The URJ strives to bring together all of its departments. Everyone is entwined and genuinely interested in what other teams are working on, and the support does not go unnoticed. As interns, we had the opportunity to learn more about all different aspects of URJ. We had conversations about the young adult engagement going on in our communities, and ways to make Reform Judaism more accessible and enjoyable for people in their 20s and 30s. We learned about the role of the Religious Action Center and the important issues they work on. We visited three Reform synagogues and saw in practice how the URJ directly relates with these synagogues and their work.
Toward the end of my internship, the three other URJ CLIP interns and I had breakfast with URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs to discuss how the program had gone. He didn’t want to hear about how great everything was and how much we loved it, but rather about what we felt the URJ could be doing better. He asked for our opinions not only on the collaboration with the CLIP program, but on the URJ as an organization. Here was the president of the organization, asking us, four college students, about what the organization needs to work on! As some of Reform Movement’s most engaged young adults, we gave suggestions as to how to get our peers excited about the things that the URJ is doing. Not only does the URJ try to bring its own departments together, but to connect people in ways that will be meaningful to them.
Throughout this summer, I learned more about Judaism than I ever had before. Through my time at CLIP and the URJ, I saw the issues facing the Jewish people and what we can try to do to help. Every place we visited and person we talked to stressed the importance of my generation and the influence we can have. Like camp, the URJ became another Kehilah Kedosha for me this summer: a holy community within itself, but also a larger community which encompasses Eisner, my synagogue from home, and so many other aspects of Reform Judaism important to my life. As an intern, I was a member of this community, supporting and being supported, and I could not have imagined a better summer.
Julie Wichler is a senior at New York University studying applied psychology in the Steinhardt School. She interned in Human Resources at the URJ this summer through the Collegiate Leadership Internship Program (CLIP).