Drinking From the Fountain of Youth at the URJ Youth Summit

Today’s studies and statistics provide proof that engaged youngsters become actively practicing Jewish adults. While practicing remains a matter of degree, anyone who has worked with young people recognizes that relationships built during these formative years facilitate engagement long after the conclusion of temple youth group days. Creating those relationships requires incredibly dedicated adults who see significant value and promise in their work with young people.

But creating a nurturing environment for relationships to flourish requires thoughtful, sometimes subtle planning. There are best practices. There are pitfalls to avoid. How can someone new to youth work gain insights? How can someone who has been working with teens for years be rejuvenated and re-inspired?

If you work with Jewish youth and are asking yourself these questions, I propose you attend the URJ Youth Summit at NFTY Convention in Atlanta, February 13-17. You will have the opportunity to meet like-minded peers, and build professional relationships to share the agonies and ecstasies of youth work!

What happens at NFTY Convention that makes the expense and the time spent away from family worthwhile? Years of experience in the adult volunteer sector has taught me that enthusiasm is contagious. Being with like-minded youth advocates allows youth professionals – especially young adults – to know that what they have chosen for their life work makes a real difference in people’s lives and that they have chosen well.

As a NFTY alum and adult lay leader, I want to model how valuable it is to be and stay involved. My connection to Reform Judaism has never been a momentary part of my life, but rather a lifetime endeavor. I believe it is critically important for teens to know that adults care about and respect them. They need to know that adults want to share conversations to learn what is important to them and their peers. The Youth Summit helps advisers learn to listen, to channel teen energy, and to be both a friend and a mentor (while still the adult) in all situations.

Two years ago, my husband, granddaughter, and I traveled to California to experience NFTY Convention together. As the Centennial Chair for Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), I was invited to announce the winner of the WRJ Centennial NFTY Essay Competition and bring greetings to NFTYites on behalf of WRJ. (The creation of NFTY is one of the most celebrated highlights of the 100-year history of WRJ). Talk about perks of the job! Whenever I spend time with NFTYites, our local temple youth group, or at URJ Camp Harlam, I feel like I’ve tasted the fountain of youth. There’s nothing like being with 1,000 teens who are singing, cheering, and loving being Jewish!

Indeed, watching and listening to NFTYites is a terrific learning experience for everyone. It restores confidence in our Jewish future. My congregation is hosting NFTY-PAR’s winter event, WINSTY, in January. It’s a lot of work and a huge commitment, but Rabbi Jack Paskoff told our Board of Trustees, “When we have a PAR event in Lancaster, the entire congregation is enriched. Everyone feels the energy. Our kids, even the younger ones, feel the connection.” Our rabbi has role-modeled for us how a congregation is strengthened by its engaged youngsters. His influence and consistent interest in the leaders of tomorrow makes our 350-family congregation a leader in our Movement.

If you want to participate in NFTY Convention and the URJ Youth Summit, make time. Ask for financial help from every organization in your community. Their investment in your attendance will reap rewards your congregation can’t imagine. Go and drink from the fountain of youth!

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Rosanne M. Selfon

About Rosanne M. Selfon

Rosanne Miller Selfon is a proud NFTY alum and lifelong Reform Jew from Lancaster, PA, where she was the first bat mitzvah in 1961. Today she is the only life member of the Board of Trustees of Congregation Shaarai Shomayim. As a past president of Women of Reform Judaism, she is a lifetime member of the WRJ Board of Directors. She has been a member of the URJ Board of Trustees since the early 1990s and currently serves as the Chairman of the URJ Camp Harlam Council and Vice-Chair of the NAC. To date, two of her three grandchildren are Harlam campers.

5 Responses to “Drinking From the Fountain of Youth at the URJ Youth Summit”

  1. avatar

    I’m a bit dubious of these Youth Engagement initiatives as it seems as if the main goal is to keep the parents in the congregation until the youngest child graduates High School. If the Reform or Conservative movements are really interested in keeping young people engage they would invest in college programs as well. As it is Hillels are a hit or miss proposition depending on the school, but Chabad is always there to provide Jewish activities for students. I’m not saying that we should compete or demean Chabad but the truth is that without any meaningful options are children are going to go to Chabad by default if they want a Jewish experience. Face it this youth initiative might enable kids to stay into their High School years but without some sort of college engagement it might take years to get these young people back into the Jewish fold.

    • avatar

      This is a bit cynical – the focus of URJ Engagement initiatives is to keep teens involved and engaged meaningfully throughout their high school years. This is a critical path in adolescent development; ample evidence shows Reform teens dropping out of Jewish life after b’nai mitzvah, thus a renewed emphasis on getting them involved within a particular time frame before that happens. Engagement at the college level is an entirely separate issue.

      • avatar

        I respect your view that this is to keep kids involved after Bar Mitzvah. However, I disagree that college is an entirely separate issue. When I was in college, I knew of many people who were involved in High School Youth activities who never wanted to engage in Jewish life in college. Whether they disengage after 7 or 12th grade the sad truth is that most people will not reengage in Jewish life until they get married if then. That is why I advocate focusing on college as well.

  2. avatar

    Rosanne, you are so on-the-mark about the intent behind NFTY engagement! Beyond creating exciting programming, as Youth Workers we are mentoring and modeling engaged ADULT Reform Jewish behavior for our teens. Done properly, we demonstrate respect, support, interest and encouragement for our young people’s Jewish growth as we help them navigate a path on the road to young adulthood. We show them that returning to the fold to pay-it-forward with the next generation is an important next step in their personal journey. L’dor v’dor.

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