Why the Campaign for Youth Engagement Matters to Me
By Renee M. Roth
I have come full circle, having just returned from the WRJ District President’s Council meeting at the URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, New York. It was my fifth DP Council at Kutz and I have enjoyed each year. This year was perhaps the most special, and a little bittersweet, because it was my last.
During the summers of 1979 and 1980, I was the lifeguard and a resident advisor at Kutz. I loved my positions; interacting with campers, faculty, and staff. I loved the programs, the music, services, and being part of the Reform community 24/7 for both long summers.
Fast forward a few years later. I married my college sweetheart, Bryan Roth, and we moved to Dallas, Texas. I craved a sense of Jewish community while living in the buckle of the Bible belt. I badly needed “my people.” I found a teaching job at the Orthodox Jewish Day School in Dallas. As much as I enjoyed this job for many years, these were not “my people.”
When it was time for our oldest son, Matthew to begin religious school in first grade, we joined Temple Shalom, where Bryan’s family had been members. I paid my sisterhood dues, because that’s what I thought a Jewish woman was supposed to do. And then my life changed!
Faye Spiegel, the sisterhood president, literally took me by the hand at a membership coffee and pointed out the best committees for me to join. Taking Faye’s advice, I joined a large committee for our signature fundraising event, and did a very small job, making phone calls and picking up a donation. I will never forget the feeling of being welcomed and needed to do this job. The feeling was that I finally found “my people”, and I really liked them!
A few phone calls led me to chair the committee the following year. After that, I was a vice president of our sisterhood, and later sisterhood president and long term temple board member. I can’t even count the number of committees that I participated in and chaired. I also have been teaching religious school since that first year. Professionally, I taught general studies at Dallas’ Reform Jewish Day School, The Wise Academy, for the life of the school. I have served on the camp committee for Greene Family Camp, and of course happily sent my children for many years.
Sixteen years later, I have served on the WRJ District 22 board, which is now the Southwest District. I now proudly serve as the Southwest district president, and the WRJ board. I have attended six WRJ assemblies/URJ biennials, and district biennials. I have traveled to many communities across the country sharing and learning about WRJ.
As a district president of WRJ, I am honored to be able to visit Kutz Camp for DP Council each year. There we plan, study, pray, play, and bond with the other fifteen first vice presidents and presidents, a few executive committee members, and members of the professional staff to do the planning for the districts of WRJ. The feeling of going to Kutz is overwhelming and full of emotion for me.
To get off the bus and see Kutz each year brings me comfort to know that it is thriving! To see my picture on the wall behind plexiglass shows me that I am part of the history of Kutz and makes me so proud! It reminds me where I came from as I do the work of WRJ. Most importantly, as I tour the camp with my fellow WRJ board members, I am reminded concretely why we do what we do, ensure the future of Reform Judaism with our support of NFTY and youth programming.
I am a product of the Reform Movement. I am a teacher of Jewish children, an active member of my congregation, and a leader in WRJ. I am quite sure that this is what the new Campaign for Youth Engagement is aiming to achieve. I indeed have come full circle, and it feels great! It’s a good thing that a circle doesn’t end because I have no intention of stopping now.
Renee M. Roth is president of WRJ’s Southwest District and attends Temple Shalom, in Dallas, Texas.