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January 05, 2012 - Image 23

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The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-01-05

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Reforming Reform

Largest movement eyes more involved teens.


Ties That Bind
The URJ Rabbinic-Lay Task Force on Revitalizing
NFTY/North American Federation of Temple Youth
held 1,000 grass-roots conversations with teens,
educators, youth workers, cantors, administrators
and lay leaders about what excites teens Jewishly.
One theme reverberated: Building meaningful
relationships and a dynamic and engaged Jewish
community is essential for youth and their
families to commit to Jewish life.
"Through people, partnerships and
pathways, and making this campaign
priority number one, we will chart a
new and transformational course for the
relationships between post-b'nai mitzvah
teens, their peers, their families, their con-
gregations, the Reform movement and the
Jewish people as a whole reads a thought-
provoking October task force letter. It was
signed by Jacobs as well as Rabbi Michael
White of Temple Sinai in Roslyn Heights,
N.Y., Jonah Pesner, now a URJ senior vice president,
and Rabbi Paul Yedwab of Temple Israel in West
Bloomfield. Yedwab is task force
In June 2010, the task force
garnered the political will of the
movement to get the URJ board
to support a Campaign for Youth
Engagement resolution that
committed the movement to sig-
nificantly increasing what's being
Rabbi Yedwab
invested in post b'nai mitzvah stu-
dents in grades 8-12. At the 2011
biennial, delegates ratified the Yedwab-authored
resolution, pitched by a committee chaired by Rabbi
Rob Nosanchuk, a former youth grouper at Temple
Beth El in Bloomfield Township who, as a Michigan
State Temple Youth member, worked with Yedwab,
then a MSTY regional youth adviser. Nosanchuk is
now senior rabbi at Fairmont Temple in Cleveland.
Building Better Relations
"Specifically," Yedwab told the IN, "the resolution
Addressing about 6,000 delegates last month in
commits to placing full-time, well-trained, long-
Washington at the 71st biennial conference of URJ,
Jacobs added, "As a movement, we have not fully fig- term professional youth workers in each and every
one of our youth regions. At present, the movement
ured out how to engage new members in a lifelong
has essentially a quarter-time, usually short-term
way because inducing spiritual commitment is no
person in each of those positions."
simple matter.
The resolution also seeks lower financial barriers
We do know some things, however; before hand-
involvement in youth experiences, everything
ing out membership forms or asking for dues, what
early childhood education and day schools
if we first forged relationships of caring? We could
groups, summer camps, Mitzvah Corps,
learn this important lesson from Chabad: Let's cre-
Israel trips and L'Taken Social Justice Seminars.
ate relationships before collecting dues. It's a pretty
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's
simple concept, but how many of us have adopted
Machon Kaplan summer program for college stu-
At the Dec. 14-18 biennial, URJ officially launched dents is now free, thanks to a grant from the Crown
Family Foundation.
the Campaign for Youth Engagement with the plea
that unless all Reform Jews respond to the action
Measurable Strategies
call, capturing the imagination of the next genera-
"From early childhood to b'nai mitzvah to high
tion won't happen.
school and then to college, we need a giant web of
The call certainly resonates. Donated seed money
sacred strategies to give our kids roots and wings to
already tops $1 million to expand URJ youth staff
stay grounded while soaring through this confusing
and provide synagogue innovation grants (take
world;' Jacobs said after the resolution's ratification.
heed, local congregations!).

he Reform movement not only is the largest
stream within Judaism, but also the pace-
setter in the number of teenagers and their
families exiting congregational life.
Trends show that about 80 percent of Reform
children becoming bar or bat mitzvah have no
interest in their synagogue by the time they reach
the 12th grade; that tends to not change for another
20 to 30 years. Very few Reform teens
go forward as actively engaged Jews.
The problem isn't the lack of dedi-
cated and creative lay leaders and pro-
fessionals to engage teens, according
to Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)
executive findings of the Campaign for
Youth Engagement. It's a lack of rel-
evance, community and purpose in the
Jewish connections among the teens.
"Of all the move-
ments, Reform Jews
lead the way in leav-
ing when childhood education is
over;' says Rabbi Rick Jacobs, new
president of the New York-based
"So yes, we are growing faster
Rabbi Jacobs
than other denominations, but
not with lifelong membership any
more than lifelong learning. And a
new trend indicates fewer Jews than ever join at all,
even for their children. The fastest-growing group
in the Jewish community is the lifelong unaffili-
ated and the lifelong uninspired. That's not what we
mean by excellence."
The Reform movement claims 1.5 million mem-
bers at 900 congregations in North America. But the
lures of an assimilated life have proven to be barri-
ers to sustained Jewish involvement, pulling away
too many teens after their bar or bat mitzvah.

Study Abroad in Israel
A Program With Merit


group of Cal State academics makes a weak case
for opposing reinstatement of study abroad in
Israel. A damning letter from 81 California State
University faculty, staff and administrators cites fear of stu-
dent safety and the chance that students
of Middle East origin would face discrimi-
natory treatment in entering and moving
around Israel. Neither count has dissuaded
a boom in study abroad in Israel; Michigan
State University, for example, is very active
in sending students there.
The Dec. 2 letter, to Chancellor Charles
MSU Professor
B. Reed, argues restarting study abroad
in Israel should only be considered if a
Ken Waltzer
similar program was developed in col-
laboration with Palestinian universities — a hollow pitch
given there's no such parallel programming arrangement
anywhere. CSU spokeswoman Claudia Keith contends that
such a dual program is necessary because of "the extreme
imbalance" in the U.S. toward Israel. She says somebody
has to counter Israel's influence on America's political
lobby and academic discourse. That's classic anti-Semitism.
Wackiest of all the assertions is that "CSU participation
with the government of Israel in the proposed study abroad
program could be interpreted as an endorsement of the
international crime of apartheid" — a ridiculous argument
asserting Israel systematically segregates and oppresses
Palestinians in the West Bank a la the apartheid the
National Party governments of South Africa practiced from
1948 to 1994.
Cal State is weighing whether to resume study abroad in
Israel; the program was suspended in 2002 amid the sec-
ond Palestinian uprising.
Seeking to derail study abroad in Israel is a new tactic of
Israel's critics on U.S. campuses, reports the Dec. 5 issue of
Inside Higher Education in the story "Politicization of Study
Abroad." It's a tactic other universities and Jewish watch
groups everywhere must be mindful of.
The story reports growth in study abroad to Israel, up 60
percent in one year. Israel is the 17th most-popular study
abroad destination; 3,146 U.S. students studied there in
2009-10, compared to 1,958 the year prior. More and more
schools are open to sending students to Israel; increasingly,
universities allow it with some restrictions such as requir-
ing signatures on special waivers.
Between 2006 and 2011, MSU has sent 108 students to
study in Israel. Backed by a Masa Israel Journey grant, a
new program will send eight students to Israel next spring
and another dozen next summer.
"Many such students are equipping themselves with
knowledge and language ability in order to participate in
future efforts to resolve the conflict in the region," says
Professor Ken Waltzer, director of MSU Jewish Studies.
"Some have returned for graduate study or more extended
study to the region."
One MSU student going next spring is a student of
Palestinian background. He will study in Israel and then
Jordan. "This is what a good university does and should
do," Waltzer says.
International study is bound to do more for building
Israeli-Arab relations, thanks to informed, front-row experi-
ences, than abridging academic freedom ever would. I I

Reforming Reform on page 24

January 5 2012


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