URJ Launches Details of “Inspired Engagement”

URJ commits $1 million to drive participation in youth engagement strategies, announces $1 million more from outside donors

Contact: Annette Powers

December 18, 2013, New York, NY–The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) unveiled a new strategy for engaging youth at its Biennial Convention in San Diego this past week. “Inspired Engagement” – what the URJ is branding as their distinct way of engaging youth – emerged after an eight-month strategic planning process that included voices of more than 700 stakeholders from across the Jewish community and beyond.

The goal of the planning process was to develop a strategy to meaningfully engage the majority of Reform Jewish youth in Jewish life by 2020. On Thursday, December 12, URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs announced that the URJ committed an additional $1 million in funding between January – June 2014 to drive participation in youth engagement strategies. The URJ funding has been leveraged to secure an additional $1 million by outside donors.

“Currently there are around half a million young Jews between the ages of 13 and 18 in North America. Most of them are not actively involved in Jewish life’” said Rabbi Jacobs. “When we were together in Washington, D.C., two years ago, we squarely faced the staggering statistic that 80 percent of our Movement’s young people are out the door by 12th grade. I pledged to you then that our number one priority would be to turn that wide scale disaffection into deep engagement. So what are we doing? The innovative and influential Jim Joseph Foundation funded a rigorous process of mapping the field of Jewish youth engagement, testing our new thinking with leaders from across our Movement and beyond. Our new Jewish future is underway.”

The new strategy will open NFTY to any teen who wants to participate, regardless of whether the teen is a member of a Reform synagogue. “Our goal is to minimize the barriers that inhibit teen participation,” said URJ Senior Vice President Rabbi Jonah Pesner. “Being open allows teens to invite their friends to participate. Once they connect to our inspiring communities we know they will want to stay involved . . .and bring their families along with them!”

Starting in fall 2014, NFTY will begin offering programming to 6th graders. This age-appropriate programming will come at a critical time for teens who often become less involved in the Jewish community following b’nai mitzvah.

The new strategy puts in motion a year-round, integration of all of the URJ’s youth work including camps, NFTY, Israel, and Mitzvah Corps, and, will invest in upgrading the infrastructure of its URJ Kutz Camp as a flagship center of Inspired Engagement.

In honor of NFTY’s celebration of its 75th year, the URJ is reconnecting with 75,000 alumni of all of its youth programs between now and February 2015 to reengage adults as mentors, advocates and supporters of our young people.

Collaboration with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the Reform Movement’s seminary and higher education institution, emerges as a priority of the new strategy. In 2014, the URJ’s New York based youth staff will move to the New York campus of HUC-JIR providing for on-site collaboration with the educators of the Reform Movement’s leadership.

Three joint URJ/HUC-JIR professional development training seminars for congregational based youth professionals were announced at the Biennial’s closing plenary on Sunday. “If we have more and better trained adults working with our youth we will have more youth engaged in our communities in meaningful and lasting ways,” commented Rabbi Pesner.

For more information about the URJ’s new youth engagement strategy contact URJ’s Public Relations and Communications Manager, Annette Powers.

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