Our Teens Speak; The Forgotten Demographic

As this blog has frequently commented, when considering changes that go to the ‘heart and soul’ of an organization, all stake-holders need to be consulted. That’s just how it is today.

The reorganization of the Hebrew Union College, along with the likely closing of at least one campus, has been a hot topic. From discussions, it’s apparent that one group not really brought into the loop of discussion is the present student body. A second group, apparently off everyone’s radar scope – including ours, are the future students – the lifeblood of the Reform movement.

This past weekend, at their regional event, the NFTY-OV General Assembly unanimously motioned to write a letter to Rabbi Ellenson and the College Board concerning the discussions on closing HUC’s Cincinnati campus. [NFTY-OV is the Reform movement’s high school youth organization in the Ohio Valley].

We feel it is important to bring this to you – for if anything – this is our next generation.

n2205159585_9069Rabbi Ellenson and the Board of Governors of the Hebrew Union College,

We are writing to you as members of the North American Federation of Temple Youth Ohio Valley Region. Our membership comes from Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. We come together as a region throughout the year to learn, pray, and form bonds that strengthen us as people, as they strengthen our connection to our Judaism. We strongly believe that any changes made to the College will have a direct effect on our lives, our connection to Judaism, and the NFTY-OV region.

To the members of NFTY-OV, the HUC-Cincinnati campus offers a new way to explore and define our spirituality and our Jewish identity. Our interaction with HUC-Cincinnati offers a different kind of relationship with the Jewish religion that cannot be established at one of the region’s Jewish summer camps nor at our home congregations’ services and activities. Opening our eyes to new modes of prayer and new ways to express ourselves through our prayers, we are able to move away from the family-oriented style of services and prayer we find at camp and at our own synagogues and transition to a more educational, more essentially Judaic, service experience. This service structure helps us to connect with all Jews, past and present. As a NFTY-OV member, it is important to understand where our Judaism comes from. HUC helps us to do so by offering the unique opportunity to be able to pray and experience our Jewish history at the same time.

The HUC-Cincinnati campus provides us direct access to the rich history of the Reform Movement in America. Not only does it provide us with literature and museum-based historical repertoire, it gives us the connection to people, past and present, who are directly involved with the shaping and direction of the Reform Movement. We cannot afford to lose the rich historical archives and educational information that HUC offers us because we, as Reform teenagers, need to see where our movement began, where it has traveled since, and where it is going next. By learning from our past leaders and past members of the Reform Movement in the place where their history was made, we are able to better use what they can teach us to form and put into place a future for our fellow Reform teenagers that will be the history of tomorrow.

Everything about HUC-Cincinnati, from the archives to the library to the faculty to the facilities, has the ability to give us immense resources from which we can expand our education, for ourselves and for other people. Each year, the juniors and seniors of NFTY-OV come together at the campus to learn and build a Jewish identity for themselves that will last through college and beyond. We not only utilize the facilities of the HUC-Cincinnati campus, but we also have the chance to meet one of the admissions directors for the school. We have the opportunity to talk about our future in the Reform Jewish community and possibly becoming part of the student body. We also get to meet the Youth Programs Interns, and learn about more opportunities to make the most of the HUC-Cincinnati campus. Not only do we come together to learn more about our Judaism, but we are also able to begin to think about and build our futures in the midst of the Cincinnati Reform Jewish community. This future may include becoming part of the HUC-Cincinnati program. By educating and becoming more involved at the high school level, we are creating a bond with the program and our religion that will potentially bring us back to study at the campus. If this is taken away, we lose not only a valuable resource that is the campus, but we also lose the opportunity to educate many of the future rabbis, cantors, and educators about the HUC-Cincinnati program, with its rich history and its connection to the Reform movement. Without the resource that is the HUC-Cincinnati campus, this future would not be possible.

The most important resource the HUC-Cincinnati campus offers us as Reform teenagers is the wisdom, guidance, and mentorship that our advisors, many of them rabbinical students at HUC-Cincinnati, epitomize. In NFTY-OV, we are all members of congregations that rely heavily on the assistance and leadership of the rabbinical students. Their actions and their role in educating the temple youth are crucial to the success of our congregations. In turn, the success of our congregations dictates the success of our temple youth groups, which then determines the success of NFTY-OV as a region. Our region, with its connection to HUC-Cincinnati, is giving faces and names to the future of the Reform movement. Closing the HUC-Cincinnati campus weakens NFTY-OV; losing the Cincinnati campus means losing our advisors and, with them, the potential that we, the members of NFTY-OV, bring to the Reform movement. Our advisors help us to realize our potential by teaching us not only about Judaism, but also how our Judaism applies to our lives. They help us learn how to use our personal experiences to teach our peers and younger students. In the V’ahavta, we learn about the mitzvot that God has commanded of us, and we learn that we are to “teach them diligently to our children.” Our advisors are fulfilling this commandment by teaching us, the NFTY-OV teenagers, and we in turn use the knowledge that the advisors have given us to educate our fellow teenagers through our educational programming, fulfilling the commandment for ourselves.

The mission of NFTY-OV is to help young adults in the Ohio Valley region to explore and develop their own Jewish identity, and HUC-Cincinnati and the rabbinic students offer us a channel with which we can find resources and educational materials to better serve our members in helping them discover their own personal Judaism. Without the HUC-Cincinnati campus, we cannot hope to effectively program for and educate the members of NFTY-OV. Please know that your decision has a direct effect on the future of the Reform Movement: the teenagers of NFTY-OV, present and future.

Sincerely,

The North American Federation of Temple Youth – Ohio Valley Region

The letter contains five pages of signatures; it was made available by, and published with permission of, the members of NFTY-Ohio Valley.