Ok everyone put your thumbs up high in the air! “Oh USY, Oh USY, for you we live for you we die! Oh USY, oh USY, for you we live for you we die! You gave us spirit, lots of luck; you even taught us how to … fool around. Oh USY, oh USY, for you we live for you we die!
Any current USYer reading this blog is not going to know that little ditty, but most of my friends sure will (and any staff out there, sorry!) Last weekend, my synagogue hosted the Hagalil USY regional Leadership Training Institute Kinus. There were about 140 high school students who came together to “do Jewish” for lack of a better term. For the kids, the weekend was about leadership and those who attended were the leaders of the region and many of the local chapters in New Jersey. But it was more than just leadership. It was about Jewish learning, prayer, friendship and fun. It was a great weekend for all involved and it really brought back a lot of my memories from when I was in USY. We had four boys stay in our house, one of whom was my nephew and one the son of one of my close friends from USY.
It was really amazing getting to see the youth of today experiencing some of the same things I did in USY and I know that I was looking at future Rabbis, Cantors, Jewish educators and just committed Jews. It made me very happy to know that there is a secure future. But then last night I saw a disturbing video on YouTube that was shown at my Synagogue board meeting.
This disturbing video brought me information of which I was totally unaware. When I was in USY, there were between 15,000 and 20,000 USYers in North America. We would have upwards of 1200 USYers at International Convention. USY Pilgrimage was bursting at the seams with participants. But now, with numbers like these, USY is in real danger of disappearing. At the same rate of by 2015 there could be 3000 USYers. There are hardly any large USY chapters with more than 60 members (there were a few in NJ when I was in USY). USY is a program that I want my children to be involved with, and if things don’t turn around, my seven year old daughter may not have much of a chance. On top of that, the Jewish community in general will suffer for the lack of USY. Many leaders in the Conservative Movement and in the general community are USY graduates.
So now that I have depressed you, what can we do about this? Those of us in Conservative Synagogues can start by doing two things (and those not in a Conservative Synagogue can do one). We can encourage our children to go to USY events! It sounds so simple, but it is not happening. Parents today seem to be very lax when it comes to pushing their children to get involved with youth programming. I see this in my Synagogue and in the general community. I understand that there are so many things vying for our children’s time. When I was in high school, there was not much for me to be involved with outside of sports and a few clubs in my school. USY filled a major gap. Today our kids are under a lot of pressure to be involved with a lot of things. I think that parents need to take a look at their priorities and what types of things in which they want their children involved. Personally I think USY would be a better choice than karate or dance if the choice needs to be made. USY helps create responsible adults and in many cases our future leaders. USY fosters a love for Judaism and Israel that is not so easy to come by these days. USY helps prepare teens for college and for life beyond. So whether you are in a Conservative Synagogue or not, I urge you to consider USY as a great program for your children (and that is not meant to put down NCSY or NFTY, if you are involved in the Orthodox movements or Reform movement, please get your children involved in those organizations!)
The second thing those of us in Conservative Synagogues can do is to open our doors to USY. When USY is having a program, stop by and see what’s happening! USYers would love to show you! Urge your congregations to sponsor USY if they do not, and to host regional events if they do. And when your Synagogue hosts a regional event, volunteer! Be there to serve a meal or to help set up a room. Open your home to USYers and have them stay in your house. These are experiences the kids will never forget and you will never forget.
We’re all in it together. USY can have a very bright future but only if WE, the members of Conservative congregations, make a commitment to USY. The kids won’t jump up and join USY on their own, they need our encouragement. And once they are there, the rest takes care of itself. I can tell you that USY was the single most important thing in my high school years. I was a shy introvert before USY and USY changed me forever. I did not just decide to go to a USY meeting; my parents encouraged me to go. I did not just go to a USY kinnus; my parents suggested that I go. Once I was there, USY got me. I became the president of my local chapter, a member of the regional board, a vice president in the region and finally a member of the USY international board. My nephew who stayed at my home this past Shabbat is following a similar path (although he was not a shy introvert!). USY makes menschen (good people) and we need to step up and ensure its continuation.
Finally here are a couple of USY promotional videos, and two of a USYers having a great time at shul!