URJ Kutz Camp – NFTY’s Physical Address
By Melissa Frey
When Hattie and Milton Kutz gifted $100,000 of their estate toward the creation of a Reform Movement leadership training summer program for teens, the impact of their vision likely could not have been imagined. Tens of thousands of people, both young and young at heart, including many of the most influential professional and volunteer leaders in our movement, are products of the URJ Kutz Camp. Forty-nine summers after opening the gates at 46 Bowen Road in Warwick, New York, Kutz has secured its place as the flagship center of inspired engagement. Each of these milestones and successes has happened because of and in partnership with NFTY.
Since Kutz opened in 1965, many of the issues most relevant to our young people and our movement also have been central to the thinking, debating, and learning that have occurred between young leaders and adults in this sacred space. Iconic photos throughout camp capture the spirit and passion of our young people speaking up and out, as well as making NFTY policy around issues of the day, including the Vietnam War, Soviet Jewry, AIDS, GLBTQ rights, immigration reform, inclusion of people with disabilities, and bullying.
Hanhagah L’Dorot (Generational Leadership), a leadership philosophy created by NFTY strategic thinkers at Kutz more than a decade ago remains central to our leadership model today. Inspired by Deuteronomy 29:9-14, the model is predicated on a fundamental belief that to find balance in our immediate work as leaders, we cannot focus solely on our time in a particular leadership role. Rather, our view of leadership must be panoramic, learning from those who came before us, and making choices to ensure the existence of the next generation. For more than 10 years, NFTYites have been working to secure the future of our Movement, using this Kutz-bred philosophy. Building upon Hanhagah L’Dorot, NFTY’s Thirteen Principles were created to reflect and correlate the most important values shared by NFTY and Kutz Camp.
The summer program at Kutz also continues to reflect nine specific areas of leadership that most resonate with our teens today, including arts, justice, leadership and Judaics. Our most highly engaged leaders join us during the summer to enhance their skills in specific areas. At Kutz, they learn new skills, implement them, evaluate them, refine them, and then start the process again. Once that go back to their home communities, they are prepared to lead. The skills they learn at Kutz relate directly to enhancing specific, special interest areas – music, art, Jewish learning, inclusion of young people with special needs, and more – in temple youth groups, congregational schools, and the broader Jewish community.
Last month, at its Veida (mid-year board meeting), NFTY elected the North American Board for the 2014-2015 academic year. The cadre of candidates was diverse and impressive; each one brought to the table something unique that he or she is passionate about moving forward within NFTY. Some have important interests outside of NFTY. The titles they carry with honor are diverse. Although the candidates followed different paths to meaningful leadership roles, all of them have spent time learning and leading at Kutz. The newly elected board members will spend this summer in residence at Kutz, which stands as a true gateway to meaningful leadership roles within our movement.
As we shift our focus from what has been to what will be, it is impossible to separate the celebration of NFTY’s 75 years from the powerful presence and partnership NFTY has had with Kutz Camp for 50 of those years. In fact, when we close out our celebration of NFTY at 75 in Atlanta next February, we will kick off the 50th anniversary of Kutz, a year-long acknowledgement and celebration of Kutz’ remarkable history and future as a home of Reform Jewish life, which is essential in ensuring the cultivation, continuation and vibrancy of our movement. Every celebration is a simcha, and having these two milestones – NFTY at 75 and Kutz at 50 – so inexorably intertwined is a true gift that reflects the work and growth we have shared, the progress we have made together, and the strength we draw from each other.
Melissa Frey is the Director of the URJ Kutz Camp. Melissa has also been integrally involved on the staff of NFTY since 1999, most recently completing five years as the Associate Director of NFTY. She is a proud alumna of Greene Family Camp, Kutz Camp, NFTY and BBYO.