Ending its stand-alone Israel trip, USY partners with Ramah for new summer program: Yuval Yisrael

Merger will strengthen the Conservative movement’s leadership pipeline, part of a streamlining process, USCJ’s Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal says

The United Synagogue Youth, the Conservative youth movement, is shuttering its own Israel trips — EPIC Israel — and replacing them with a new program in partnership with the Ramah camping movement, the two organizations announced on Wednesday. 

This represents the second Israel travel program that USY has shut down in recent months, following the closure of the Nativ gap-year program.

The new joint USY-Ramah program will be known as Yuval Yisrael. It entails a 3 1/2-week visit to Israel with the option to add a 12-day “Eastern Europe Experience,” stopping in Berlin, Prague and Poland, on the front end of the trip. It is open to any rising 10th, 11th and 12th graders, regardless of their previous experiences with Ramah and USY.

“The program includes experienced and knowledgeable mechanchim [tour educators] as well as madrichim [counselors] who are trained for the physical and emotional needs of teen travelers. The participants will be accompanied by security guards to further ensure safety,” the movements said in their announcement.

Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said the merger was part of a general effort to streamline and unify the movement. 

“We’ve talked for a long time about ways to partner as a movement on various projects. It’s exciting to see,” he told eJewishPhilanthropy.

Denying that the partnership indicated that the movement was struggling, Blumenthal said it was “a sign of strength” that these organizations were coming together. 

“We are investing in efforts to build a leadership pipeline of teenagers and young adults,” he said. “This kind of partnership is key to creating that strong effort.”

Regarding the closure of Nativ, Blumenthal said the movement had “every intention of restoring our gap-year program” as quickly as possible.

Meir Hoyzman, the CEO of Ramah Israel, acknowledged the cost-saving aspect of the merger, but stressed that this was also a move that was meant to correct a long-standing, unnecessary disconnect between Ramah and USY.

“Finally the Conservative movement is sending a statement that there’s one trip for the movement, that it’s not divided anymore between Ramah and USY. This is something that should have been done a long time ago,” Hoyzman told eJP.

“This will maximize our resources to bring a program that will suit the egalitarian community and the Conservative movement community,” he said.

Julie Marder, the interim senior director of USY, similarly hailed the collaboration between the  two Conservative youth movements as something that’s “been a dream for a long time.” 

“We are so thrilled for this long overdue partnership,” she said in a statement.

Hoyzman said the new Yuval Yisrael program would not replace Ramah’s Seminar program for rising 12th graders who attend Ramah camps. That will continue as normal, he said.

Blumenthal said Yuval Yisrael was expected to have “different tracks,” depending on the interests of the participants. Hoyzman said this may include a leadership track that is more “USY-oriented.”

It is not yet clear how many participants the inaugural Yuval Yisrael will have as Israel trip organizers of all kinds are expecting a far smaller than normal level because of security concerns.

“I’ll be happy if we have one bus,” Hoyzman said. “A lot of people are postponing their decisions to wait and see [what happens with the war].”