A Pilgrimage for Our Day

by Rabbi Josh Weinberg

Mark, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of the Eternal [to last] seven days: a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day.

Leviticus 23:39

Walk around Zion, circle it; count its towers, take note of its ramparts; go through its citadels, that you may recount it to a future age.

Psalm 48:13-14

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Awesome Power In Numbers

By Jonathan Cohen and Beth Rodin

The first “modern” NFTY Convention was held in 1983. I was there. A sophomore from Tupelo, Mississippi, getting to attend Convention was an unbelievable thrill. I still carry vivid memories from that Convention, not the least of which being our group – the biggest number of Jewish teens, make that Jews – I had ever seen in one place at one time, singing together on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Wow. Read more…

Engaging Effective Madrichim Training

The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

Many congregations engage teens as madrichim (“guides”) in Religious School classrooms to serve as role models of continued Jewish involvement, to assist with administrative tasks, and often to lead activities and discussions with students.  Whether your madrichim program involves 10 teens or 100, one of the most important aspects of building and maintaining a strong program is the quality of training provided to the teens.

When developing a madrichim training program, the best place to start is by thinking about what you value in your own professional development. We justify it by saying things like: “Isn’t the important thing that the teens are in the building, engaged in Jewish living and learning?  Don’t ‘required trainings’ provide an unnecessary barrier to participation?”  Well, yes and no.  For most teens, their work in the Religious School is the first job they’ll ever have, especially since many madrichim programs include students as young as 8th grade.  In addition to prepping for assigned tasks, most teens need help developing basic skills in communication, working under supervision, goal setting, and time management.  These are the foundation to their success. Read more…

MASA: A Journey to Family Engagement

The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

On a Friday night this past spring, 26 families shared Shabbat in 7 homes across New York City. They said the blessings, ate their festive meals, and were joined by synagogue staff, who led the groups in activities and songs. This was the fourth such dinner last year.  Remarkably, these families were satisfying their Religious School requirement.

A growing number of families at Temple Shaaray Tefila are taking part in MASA (“Journeys” in Hebrew), our Temple’s multi-generational education program, now in its seventh year. It offers year-long family “journeys” centered on Jewish topics, as an alternative to our religious school. As part of the program, parents study both with their children and separately with our education staff and clergy, as well as participate in Shabbat and holiday celebrations together with the goal of enhancing their own knowledge and their ability to teach and model Jewish practice for their children. Read more…

Reform Leaders Protest Klinghoffer Opera

In response to recent controversy over the Metropolitan Opera’s production The Death of Klinghoffer, Reform Movement leaders sent the following letter to Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb:

Dear Mr. Gelb,

We join with other Jewish leaders in expressing our disappointment and dismay about the staging by the Metropolitan Opera of “The Death of Klinghoffer.” While we acknowledge steps you have taken to curtail the presentation of the opera to a simulcast audience and to allow the Klinghoffer family to convey their view of the opera to your audiences, we regret your decision to present the opera at the Met. Read more…

First (Probably) Annual Rosh HaShanah Sermon Round-Up

What did Reform rabbis talk to their congregations about this Rosh HaShanah? Based on my totally non-scientific survey, Israel was far and away the most popular topic. (Read on for links to sermons by rabbis Block, Bob, Davidson, Gropper, Gurvis, A. Hirsch, Kipnes, Kaufman, Ottenstein, and Prosnit.) That is true many years, and given the Gaza conflict this summer it is not surprising that it was true again this year. Many of sermons focused on what American Jews can do so support Israel. Others included a discussion of anti-Semitism as part of their analysis. Many were aimed at helping congregants better understand the situation.

Although the popularity of Israel as a topic was not a surprise, the number of rabbis who choose to speak about depression, mental illness, and suicide was. (See rabbis Bretton-Granatoor, Joseph, and Kuhn.) A few referenced the suicide this summer of actor Robin Williams; others choose to tell their own personal stories. I found these to be among the most powerful of the sermons I read. Read more…

Transformation that Sticks: How to Create Long-Lasting Change in Your Education Programs

The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

In March of 2010, our congregation was approached by Combined Jewish Philanthropies (Greater Boston’s Jewish Federation) and invited to begin a process of transforming our synagogue’s learning programs for children in grades K-5.  We eagerly accepted the offer and began our work with two consultants they provided us from Brandeis University – Rachel Happel (now our Director of K-12 Learning) and Dvora Goodman – who were local experts in experiential Jewish learning.  Together we engaged in a process of reflection, visioning, best practices research, and dreaming of what could be.  The result was our decision to close down our old religious school (which we deemed to be beyond repair) and to launch our new learning and engagement model, Mayim, in the fall of 2012. Read more…

The Days of Awe, Community, and “Relational Judaism”

Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, a distinguished Hasid, told a parable about the Days of Awe of a man who is lost in the woods. Just when he is losing hope, he runs into another person and is filed with joy, exclaiming “Brother, tell me which is the right way. I have been wandering for days.” His fellow responds by saying that he, too, has been wandering, and is sure that his way is also the wrong way. He reassures, him however, that working with each other, they can find a new way out – together.

This story underscores a core principle of the Days of Awe: They are inherently relational. The word “relational” is in danger of becoming so overused as to become meaningless, but it is critical – and during these days of teshuvah (return, repentance) and s’licha (forgiveness), the central role of relationship in Judaism comes even more into focus. These are the very days in which we reflect deeply on our relationships to others; who have we slighted? With whom must we repair? The focus of these High Holidays is actually a reminder that Judaism calls individuals into relationship all year round. Read more…

NFTY and BBYO: Two Movements, One Mission

By Ariel Schwartz

NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, and BBYO are two incredible Jewish teen movements that aim to engage Jewish teens across the world. Though they are organized and operate differently, cherish different histories, and engage different types of Jewish teens, ultimately they both work to build a stronger Jewish future. I am proud to be an active member of both BBYO and NFTY. Read more…

Signs of Hope for the Future: A Promising Meeting in Israel

I’m writing from an airplane (for a change!), heading home after an unexpected 36 hours in Israel, including an important meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

I was not planning on being in Israel this week. Natan Sharansky called just before Shabbat with a summons to come to Israel to find a way to make real his dream of “one wall, for one people.” I was in Israel for 30 hours, most of them spent meeting with my extraordinary colleagues Anat Hoffman and Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Israel Religious Action Center, our partners from the Conservative Movement, and Jerry Silverman, the CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. Many of us have been meeting fairly regularly with Avichai Mendelblit, the Israeli Cabinet Secretary who was charged by Prime Minister Netanyahu to find a way to share that holy piece of Jewish spiritual real estate.

To say that negotiating this historic compromise with the Government of Israel and the Orthodox establishment is complicated would be an understatement. Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed our Biennial Convention last December and reaffirmed his commitment saying, Read more…

NFTY Convention Registration Opens October 6th!

Registration for NFTY Convention 2015 and the Youth Summit for congregational professionals and stakeholders will open Monday, October 6th! To make sure your congregation is ready, here are some helpful reminders: Read more…

A Songleader’s Journey

by Rabbi Ramie Arian

Throughout the nearly four decades of my career, I’ve been privileged to serve the Jewish people in a variety of non-congregational rabbinic roles – national director of NFTY, the Reform Jewish youth movement for most of the 1980s, as well as vice president of the Wexner Heritage Foundation, national director of Young Judaea, and founding executive director of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. The Jewish journey of my life has been shaped and molded by many influences; NFTY was among the most important. Read more…

The Power, Growth, and Continued Success of Mitzvah Corps

“Dad, this is amazing,” my daughter exclaimed on a phone call home from Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua this summer. “There are so many kids on my program who have never heard of NFTY before!” You may think this comment would’ve been discouraging to me: What are we doing wrong that these kids have never heard of NFTY?! To the contrary, I felt the complete opposite.

As the High Holidays approach, I’ve been reflecting on my foremost dream for the URJ’s Campaign of Youth Engagement: to exponentially increase the number of teens who are engaged in Jewish life. We had an incredible summer, and one of our strongest accomplishments was the skyrocketing success of Mitzvah Corps, which offers hands-on opportunities for teens to pursue advocacy, adventure, and relationship-building in locations such as Costa Rica, Israel, Nicaragua, New Orleans, Portland, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey. Read more…

“You Say You Want a Revolution”

By Mark S. Anshan

I had the privilege of serving as the National Federation of Temple Youth’s president from 1970-1971. In those years, my wife Brenda (from Bradford, PA) and I (a Torontonian) belonged to NELFTY (North Eastern Lakes Federation of Temple Youth), where I had served as president from 1968-1969.

We were witness to many historic and life-changing events during our years in NFTY. During the height of the Vietnam War, as NFTY’s first vice president, I had the unique opportunity of representing NFTY and giving testimony before Senator Edward Kennedy. Many of my friends were dealing with the draft, worried about the numbers they’d receive, and hoping for student deferment (as college students) to avoid serving, rather than going to fight in a war of questionable objectives. Read more…