Among my fondest memories from my adolescence are the hours spent in Young Judaea programs. We sang Israeli folks songs for hours, danced Israeli folk dances with joy, and enjoyed the camaraderie of the group. It was heaven. I know these were formative experiences for me, growing my sense of Jewish pride and a love of Israel.

I envied the kids whose parents sent them to conventions, to camp (Tel Yehudah) and – wow, what a dream – to Israel! I did attend a couple conventions, as I recall, but I had some resistance to the cost and inconvenience from my parents, who unfortunately set limits on what I could do with Young Judaea (seems unimaginable now, but times were different then, I know.) I recall being sad when I missed opportunities that others were lucky enough to be able to grab.

So when my kids became interested in being involved in Young Judaea as teenagers, I could not have been happier. My son was on the regional board and then the national board and I was bursting with pride. My daughter and younger son followed, attending many conventions, becoming part of camp TY as campers and counselors. My older two kids traveled to Israel for Young Judaea Year Course, the flagship gap year program of YJ. It filled my heart with pride and joy to be able to facilitate this journey for my kids.

Year Course was, in my view, not only a realization of my dream for my kids. It was a great opportunity for their growing up before college, while developing strong Hebrew skills and a deepening love for Israel and the Jewish people. Sure, my kids had issues with some aspects of the program, but I didn’t consider the issues concerning—every program has aspects that work well and some that may not work as well at any given time and for any particular kid. The program was really great for my kids, as far as I was concerned.

After my older two kids went on Year Course, the cost dramatically shot up. My younger son, who had also collected some negative impressions from his leadership role in YJ, was not quite as keen on the centrality of Young Judaea in his life. I kept encouraging him to keep at it and look past one rough year, but his drift away had already taken him to a different place than his sibs. So when the cost of Year Course became a challenge for our family’s budget, my younger son pronounced it a closed issue. He wouldn’t be going.

I was very sad and struggled over this turn of events. I had a picture in my mind of all three of my kids being launched into their adult life through Young Judaea Year Course. It was hard to let go of that dream. We have had many reflective conversations about this in our family.

We are clearly living through a time of much transition and change in the Jewish world. Some established organizations are struggling, downsizing, or even sun-setting. New, innovative organizations are emerging even more quickly than many of us can count. So it is no surprise that the long established, historically strong Young Judaea organization is going through change. And it is also no surprise that new competitors are emerging. This week, my older son sent me the following announcement from JPost:

“Former Young Judaea head launches rival year program”

“It’s time to make Israel programs more competitive, affordable.” Former Young Judaea Year Course director Keith Berman, who announced his resignation from the organization last month, has launched a new “year in Israel program” for teens Monday aimed at stirring up competition for long-term programs here and making such experiences more affordable to young Diaspora Jews. See: http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/JewishNews/Article.aspx?id=167521

My son wanted my reaction. So, b’kitzur, in short, I’ll offer this view. I hope that this new program does well and I wish Keith Berman well. (I already recommended exploring this to a congregant who is considering a gap year program for his daughter.) I hope the competition helps to strengthen all of the programs who bring American Jewish kids to Israel for study and Jewish experiences. I pray that Young Judaea will transition through this time of change leaner and stronger. And most of all, I pray that lots and lots of Jewish kids come to know the pride and joy and love of being Jewish that Young Judaea helped me to find when I was a teen. I am grateful to all of the progressive programs that contribute to the lives of our kids, to well-being of the Jewish people and to ensuring our future.


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