Putting “Inspired Engagement” into Motion



The powerful roll out of the newest implementation steps of the Campaign for Youth Engagement at the recent URJ Biennial in San Diego has generated excellent feedback and momentum. Our Reform movement-wide approach is called Inspired Engagement, a transformative teen and young adult network, which integrates diverse program offerings into one seamless year-round matrix in order to increase access to, and promote lifelong participation in, the joys of Jewish living.

Here are some of the exciting specifics…

  • NFTY6: Due to an overwhelming response, we are “fast-tracking” the launch of NFTY6, which is designed to meaningfully engage your sixth-graders in a safe, welcoming, and caring community of peers. Following a training this month, our staff will be working with congregations to develop and implement this new programming in close partnership with older teens – as a critical component will be high school-age leadership, mentorship, and role-modeling.,Special thanks to Women of Reform Judaism, whose generous funding has made the rapid acceleration of this program possible.
  • Inaugural Youth Professional Development Workshop Series: Developed in concert with our colleagues at HUC-JIR, these workshops are part of our Movement-wide initiative to strengthen the capacity of our synagogues by equipping youth professionals with skills to make Inspired Engagement a reality. The first workshop will be hosted on the Cincinnati campus in May, with additional workshops to follow in Los Angeles and New York this fall.
  • Year-round Centers for Youth Engagement: As part of the plan to “knit together” such wonderful, yet diverse, resources as URJ camps, NFTY, congregations, Israel programs, Mitzvah Corps, RAC, professional development, day schools, community partners, alumni, and other supporting elements, we are “beta-testing” this concept in Northern California (anchored by URJ Camp Newman) and in Texas-Oklahoma (anchored by URJ Greene Family Camp).Because both of these URJ camps have already been experimenting with year-round family and outreach programming, they are uniquely qualified to “hit the ground running.” Moreover, they will serve as invaluable “learning labs” helping us to refine and evolve the program-integration models that lie at the heart of Inspired Engagement.
  • Partnering with other leading youth movements: With more than half a million Jewish teens “at risk,” so to speak, the stakes for meaningful youth engagement have never been higher! Recognizing that no youth movement has a monopoly on what succeeds in attracting this target audience of “millennials,” our national professional leadership team has been reaching out to its colleagues in other movements to cooperate, collaborate, and leverage resources. As a result of ongoing dialogue between NFTY and BBYO at both the staff and teen levels, we are delighted to announce that this weekend, URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs will join 40 teen leaders from NFTY at BBYO’s International Convention in Dallas.Rabbi Jacobs will speak at the opening ceremony, and our teens will participate in a day of joint programming with their BBYO counterparts, all of whom share the same goal: to attract and engage teens in Jewish life.

This landmark joint-venture with BBYO, just like some of our previous research and best-practice collaborations with the Conservative Movement’s Ramah camp system, illustrates yet again our conviction that where there are opportunities for mutual benefit – and communal gains – we must seize them!

At the same time, however, we must never lose sight of the fact that what makes the “value proposition” of Inspired Engagement so compelling are the uniquely Reform components that underpin its educational and spiritual pillars. Nowhere was this more evident than in Rabbi Jacobs’s most recent op-ed piece on interfaith inclusivity. If you have not already seen it, please take a moment to read it now.

As we continue to “unpack, assemble, and re-configure” the practical implementation of Inspired Engagement, we welcome your continued input in the form of feedback, participation, and financial support.

To keep current on the latest developments, please add yourself to our mailing list.

Jewish tradition teaches that “when we enter into the month of Adar, our joy increases.” We do have much to celebrate even as we continue to wrestle with these challenges together.

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Rabbi Jonah Pesner

About Rabbi Jonah Pesner

Rabbi Jonah Pesner is Senior Vice President of the URJ. Rabbi Pesner is also the founding Director of Just Congregations. He works with synagogues pursuing social justice across the country and teaches on all three campuses of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He has led efforts to engage thousands of members of congregations to join together in successful campaigns for health care access, affordable housing, public education and other social action initiatives.

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