URJ to Expand Campaign for Youth Engagement

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) has announced an expansion of its national Campaign for Youth Engagement. Funded by a matching grant of $194,050 from the Jim Joseph Foundation, the expansion involves development of a strategic plan that includes new innovation grants, pilot programming, increased human resources and program expansion focusing on teen engagement and learning within the Reform Movement.

The Campaign specifically attempts to increase engagement of post-b’nai mitzvah teens from 20 percent to more than 50 percent by 2020. The URJ will work to build stronger connections between synagogues, its network of summer camps, Israel experiences, service learning programs and NFTY, its North American youth movement. Additionally, the Campaign will partner both inside and outside the Reform Movement to create new opportunities to engage youth in areas such as the arts, leadership development and community service.

A crucial component of the Campaign will include an evaluation of all initiatives, to measure and assess success. The URJ will look closely at staff recruitment and retention, professional development, and assess the quantity and quality of the participation of teens themselves.

A vision team of nearly 70 Jewish professionals (including rabbis, cantors, educators from camps, youth and early childhood programs) along with lay leaders (including teens and parents) has conducted more than 1,000 conversations across North America and studied the latest research about youth engagement. Building on their findings, the Campaign seeks to transform and strengthen the relationship between teens, their peers, their families, their congregations, the Reform Movement and the Jewish people.

Indicative of the Campaign’s focus is the recently launched B’nai Mitzvah Revolution, an innovative pilot program that seeks to deepen the experience of middle school children and their families as they prepare for and then celebrate a b’nai mitvah. A joint project of Hebrew Union College with the URJ, the initiative addresses the challenges faced by many synagogues as a result of the b’nai mitzvah celebration driving Jewish learning of youth prior to age 13.