How Will the Campaign for Youth Engagement Affect Me?

NFTY President-Elect Evan Traylor gave the following speech to his congregation, Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City, OK, last week about the Campaign for Youth Engagement and how to get involved at the local level. Though his suggestions are specifically related to his congregations, they can be adapted for use by anyone – at any congregation – who’s interested in engaging youth in Jewish life. Learn more about the Campaign for Youth Engagement at www.urj.org/cye.

Evan and the Campaign For Youth Engagement

Hi everyone! Can I please ask everyone to stand up for just a second? Alright, I want for everyone to pretend that you all are the youth of the Reform Jewish movement in North America after their b’nai mitzvah. Now, can I please get 80% of you to sit down. The group still standing, only 20%, are the Reform Jewish youth still engaged actively in Jewish life after their b’nai mitzvah. Whether it’s through camp, NFTY, confirmation or teaching Sunday School, this group, only 20%, are still engaged. This right here is the current trend in Reform Jewish youth across North America. Eighty percent are not engaged whatsoever in Jewish life – and this is why the Campaign for Youth Engagement was launched, to reverse this trend in our youth and to make engaging in Jewish life the norm in our temples and Jewish communities.

After more than a year and a half of planning, which including several Vision Team meetings and gathering information from over 1,000 conversations with rabbis, cantors, educators and youth (including focus groups at Greene Family Camp), the Campaign for Youth Engagement was unanimously passed by the URJ Board at the 2011 URJ Biennial in Washington D.C.Here’s some background information on the history of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Campaign for Youth Engagement:

  • Already more than $1 million has been pledged directly toward the campaign’s programs and staff.
  • Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the incoming President of the URJ, has declared that youth engagement will be the number one priority during his term.

The overall goal of the Campaign is to dramatically improve the ability of Reform institutions to involve young people in meaningful Jewish life and strengthen post-b’nai mitzvah engagement and retention in synagogues, day schools, camps and youth programs throughout North America.

How will we accomplish this? The Campaign will utilize the breadth and depth of relationships that exist within the Reform Movement – its congregations and its numerous governing bodies – and bring to bear the full commitment of talent and resources of the Movement.

You may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with me? Why is this huge Campaign, that will be effecting nearly 950 Reform Jewish congregations and 1.5 Million Reform Jews across North America, significant to me?

The lesson of L’dor V’dor, generation to generation, is a lesson that holds a high place within Judaism, and especially within this congregation. We must ensure that the generations after us have the experiences and passion to continue our strong and vibrant journey as Reform Jews. While Temple B’nai Israel could be considered an exception to the 20% statistic, we are not reaching our full potential as a congregation. And it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to ensure that our Temple community continues its strong tradition of supporting our youth. Join the youth commission. Donate to one of the numerous youth funds we have at the temple. Have a conversation with a teen about their experiences at Greene Family Camp or a NFTY event. If you’re a parent, make a strong commitment to encourage your child to join Jr. OKATY or OKATY. They will have the time of their lives, I promise.

I’d like to end with a quote from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, incoming President of the URJ. This is from the closing ceremony at the 2011 URJ Biennial: “Together we will seize this moment and shape a better tomorrow for our congregations, our Movement, our people and our world. Help me open our doors, our minds and our imaginations. Grasp the Torah with me as we carry it out of seclusion. We are the Reform Movement, so let’s get MOVING!”

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