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Chairman's Perspective: Accomplishing Together

NFTY-Mid Atlantic Region teens, my wife Helene and me (front, far right) at URJ Kutz Camp.

Like many of you, I have seen first-hand the impact of URJ programs on our young people. My grandchildren, Sara and Josh, go to URJ's Camp Harlam in Kunkletown, Pennsylvania for four weeks during the year and then talk about itand text their camp friendsfor the remaining 48 weeks. Both of them regale with us with stories about Shabbat, song sessions, their Israeli counselors, and lots of other purely camp topics. They also both participate in their temple's youth group and NFTY events. What a pleasure it was for my wife Helene and me when we hosted Sara and three other NFTYites at our home during a NFTY event in Washington, DC. They talked on and on about the amazing experience they were having, which included making friends with Reform young people from all over the Mid-Atlantic. And when I came to pick up the four young people from Temple Sinai in Washington that Saturday night, I stood in the back of the social hall and felt the incredible energy as hundreds of young people participated in a song and cheer session. Both Sara and Josh can't wait until the next one.

Exciting and engaging our youth with their peers in activities with a Reform Jewish context offers the best path to keeping them involved in Jewish life as they grow older. That is why the Campaign for Youth Engagement (CYE) is a major URJ priority. Yet this campaign extends way beyond the URJ. A key component is collaboration throughout and beyond the Reform Movement grounded in a mutual commitment to connect Jewish youth with Judaism.

For this reason, I am particularly pleased by the URJ's new CYE partnership with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the Reform Movement's global institution of higher Jewish learning that ensures spiritual, intellectual, educational, and communal leadership for the Jewish people. Hopefully by the time you read this, the URJ's Campaign for Youth Engagement headquarters staff will have moved to HUC-JIR's campus in New York City, where together we will be able to leverage our respective strengths in order to motivate young people to deepen their participation in Jewish life. Being in one location, the URJ's youth team will be exposed to the current thinking of HUC-JIR faculty and students, and, in turn, the URJ staff will update HUC-JIR's faculty on what is happening programmatically in the youth field. Cross-pollinating ideas and connections will likely yield a variety of innovative outcomes. In addition, we anticipate that our teens and youth professionals will start attending lectures and participating in cultural and social events hosted at the College-Institute, motivating some of them to become Jewish professionals themselves.

What is taking place in New York is one of many ways the URJ and HUC-JIR are collaborating to create centers of the Reform Movement and formulate joint programs. Similar partnerships are developing with congregations and the institutions throughout our Movement. There is a burgeoning understanding that when we function as a Movement, we are better equipped to deal with the challenges we all face. The URJ CYE staff move to HUC-JIR is one tangible and wonderful example of the possibilities we can accomplish together.

Stephen M. Sacks is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Union for Reform Judaism.