With Joy, Gratitude & Love, an Update on Summer 2021

Courtesy URJ Camp Harlam

By Ruben Arquilevich

About eight weeks ago, we sounded the shofar to celebrate the Jewish new year and to announce plans to open in-person summer camps and Israel journeys. This pronouncement led to an outpouring of ruach, joy, gratitude, and love from tens of thousands who comprise our global Reform Jewish family.

We know that providing our youth with these precious experiences transform their lives and their families’ lives and strengthens our congregations and Movement forever. These children and teens become the leaders, participants, parents who shape our future and steward our treasured values for future generations.

Here are a few updates on our summer 2021 plans:

  • More than 700 teens, representing hundreds of Reform congregations, have enrolled in NFTY in Israel 2021 summer journeys. We are at capacity, with a growing waitlist and an eye toward expanding capacity in future years.
  • More than 5,000 children and teens, representing hundreds of Reform congregations, have secured their space at a URJ summer camp, with some sessions already waitlisted. Having lost in-person summer camp in 2020 for the first time in the 75+ year history of Reform Jewish camping, gratitude, appreciation, and love of camp are now an all-time high. The need for camp has also risen, as the lack of in-person social connections and community takes its toll on our children’s mental health. We encourage you to share with your families the blessings of camp; spaces are limited, and financial aid is available.
  • More than 3,000 young adults from Reform congregations will serve as summer and seasonal staff, role modeling the values core to our congregations and our Movement, while more than 500 congregational rabbis, educators, cantors, artists, and scholars will serve as camp faculty (although many will serve remotely, as we continue to manage through COVID)
  • Thousands of congregational NFTY teen leaders continue to engage, connect, and build community as they become inspired to act and to lead our congregations, camps, and Movement. One of the most innovative new ways is through NFTYx – a collaborative space where teens are turning their ideas into experiences for others.
  • More than 60 teens will be participating in URJ Heller High‘s semester abroad in Israel during winter/spring 2021; the program is nearing capacity for spring semester. Heller High provides teens with a transformative experience that results in lifelong friendships, profound growth and independence, resiliency and life skills, a deep appreciation and love for Israel, amidst a joyful 24/7 Jewish living experience. Many of our camps, synagogue teens, NFTY teens experience Heller High as a pinnacle experience in their youth Jewish journey, and many become stellar leaders in our camps, synagogues, and other Movement and Jewish communal institutions as professionals or lay leaders.
  • Hundreds of congregational, Movement lay leaders continue to provide wisdom, support, partnership by serving on camp lay leadership councils and connecting our camps, congregations, and broader Jewish communities for greater impact.

Camps, NFTY and Israel programs continue to provide virtual experiences, including experiences through RJ on the Go, that foster friendship, skill development, and joyful Judaism as we plan towards in person gatherings. Many camps are running in person day long family gatherings, providing a glimpse of the future.

Congregations and Movement partners have embraced this moment with a virtual hug, symbolic of the human connection we all miss from gathering in person. As congregational and Movement leaders, seeing the light ahead for our youth to gather in person in our camps, NFTY teen leadership spaces, and Israel programs gives us hope, nourishment, and strength as we continue to lead through difficult times.

We at the URJ are so grateful for this partnership, ultimately around our shared values and our collective sacred purpose – to create a more just, compassionate world. Thank you for supporting your children’s camp, NFTY, and Israel journeys so that their lives are made better and that they become leaders who carry our torch for a better world.

When asked what rises to the top for children, teens, parents, and all who are connected to camp, let it be said, “Camp is where I fell in love with Judaism, with my best self, with my community.” As Thanksgiving approaches, we give thanks to all of you for leading with this love.

Ruben Arquilevich is the Union for Reform Judaism‘s vice president of URJ camps, NFTY and immersive experiences.

Cross-posted on URJ’s Blog.