In all of the conversations about United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) and its circumstances, one consistent note has been positive: United Synagogue Youth. From a single great idea among a few pulpit rabbis in Minneapolis grew a youth movement that has inspired hundreds of thousands of Jewish high school students including me to a deeper devotion to our tradition.
The very first International President of USY was a young man named Paul Freedman. Today, he lives in Jerusalem, overlooking the Old City, and still reconnecting with USYers past and present. His long career included decades as the Director of Youth Activities at USCJ, during which he earned his ordination. He was succeeded by his assistant, Jules Gutin, who retired from that position just last month. Along the way they inspired and planned conventions, kinnusim, study societies, tzedakot, mitzvah, projects, encampments, and a host of summer programs, including USY-on-Wheels and the exquisite USY Israel Pilgrimage.
Ann and I met when she staffed USY Encampment during my tenure as regional youth director of Seaboard Region.
But USY does not exist for the couple of thousand kids who attend regional and international programs. Its most important location is in the individual synagogues that make up USCJ. There is where you will find kids who are both enthusiasts and refugees from Jewish education finding common ground in a social environment that encourages the practice of Conservative Judaism and the connections of Jews to each other. In some communities that are predominantly Jewish, USY is an additional venue for high school kids who are already dear friends. But in places like Northern Virginia, where in spite of our numbers our kids are often minorities of one, USY is the one place where the values we hold as a synagogue and as members of that synagogue find expression in an environment of and for the kids themselves. Its where their Jewish is normal.
No other youth group promotes these values.
Agudas Achim USY has known its highs and its lows. Ambitious new leaders, including Abbe Gould, our advisor who is also our alumna, are determined to reach out to the high school students who are our previous bat and bar mitzvah students and to build with them a new legacy of fun, excitement and Jewish expression. What is sixty years old is also brand new, as it must be every year.
Please be sure that the teenagers you know are USYers. Not everyone finds a wife and a career in USY as I did, but
you never know.