It’s hard to believe, but USY, the transformative youth movement that is one of United Synagogue’s enduring success stories, has moved well beyond its adolescence as it celebrates its 60th birthday. In a myriad of ways USY has shaped the lives of more than 250,000 North American Jewish teens. Significantly, it also has nurtured countless leaders in Conservative Judaism and in the larger Jewish world. Just talk to a synagogue president, rabbi, Jewish educator, or anyone else in the forefront of Jewish life – including United Synagogue’s own CEO, Rabbi Steven Wernick – and chances are you’ll find someone whose Jewish identity and passion were nurtured through USY.
For more than a year now – and continuing through December – United Synagogue has sponsored celebrations of USY’s 60th birthday, bringing together alumni with founders and key leaders from across the decades. These events have tapped a powerful vein of memories and enthusiasm among alumni, many of whom have described their time in USY as one of the most formative experiences of their lives. That’s why United Synagogue has established the new USY Alumni Association to ensure the continued vitality of this powerful youth movement and enhance its ability to reach the next generations of young Jews.
“The alumni association will foster an environment where former USYers can reignite their deep commitment to and passion for USY. It will empower them to use their expertise to help current USYers hone their leadership skills and celebrate their Jewish identity, and it will give them a platform for helping raise much-needed resources for scholarships,” explained Wendy Glick, director of alumni affairs at United Synagogue.
Jeffrey Shlefstein, a USY alumnus from the New York region (METNY), will serve as inaugural chair of the association. “We have reached a crucial point in time, where we need to reconnect our alumni and provide support for the future vitality of USY,” said Shlefstein. “The alumni association will provide an avenue, connect old friends and form new friendships, and mentor the next generation of Jewish leaders.”
The USY Alumni Association emerges from Project Reconnect, the initial platform aimed at reconnecting alumni of all programs of the Conservative movement. The well-known programs Kol Dichfin and Come Home for the Holidays will continue through the alumni association.
We will celebrate USY in November with a month-long tribute to Danny Siegel, the celebrated writer, lecturer, philanthropist, and former USY international president who has motivated thousands of young people to embrace tzedakah and tikkun olam. We will honor Danny in the most fitting way possible: by emulating his work. Synagogues, schools and USY chapters across North America will be invited to engage in Mitzvah Month. They will find mitzvah hero project ideas and educational materials on the USY at 60 website (usy60.org). The goal: to spur a flowering of tikkun olam and social action projects across the U.S. and Canada in Danny’s honor.
“When you mention tzedakah or the idea of tikkun olam, no matter in which circles – Conservative, Reform, Orthodox or nondenominational – Danny’s name comes up. He has dedicated his life to these things,” said Gila Hadani Ward, co-chair of USY at 60 programs and the person spearheading the Danny Siegel tribute. “Danny has shown thousands of people how a simple act can make a big difference, and the best way to honor our teacher is to show him what we’ve learned from him.”
In October, our 60th birthday celebration moves to the Twin Cities of Minnesota, home to the EMTZA region and the birthplace of USY. The festivities are planned for Sunday, October 14, at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park. We’ll toast the four area synagogues that were USY’s founding congregations: Adath Jeshurun Congregation, Beth El Synagogue, Beth Jacob, and the Temple of Aaron – as well as their rabbis. Rabbi Kassel Abelson, rabbi emeritus of Beth El and past president of the Rabbinical Assembly, will represent his colleagues. We’ll also celebrate the future by recognizing Beth Jacob Congregation of Mendota Heights and Rabbi Morris Allen, who galvanized the ethical kashrut movement as founder of Magen Tzedek.
The monies raised at this event, and through the USY Founders Fund, will give even more Jewish teens the opportunity to participate in USY’s powerful programs, including regional conventions, summer programs such as USY on Wheels and Israel Pilgrimage, and Nativ, the yearlong program in Israel for high school graduates.
Finally, we want to hear from you. Share your USY story. Get involved with the alumni association. You can do both by visiting www.usy60.org or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also connect with us on Facebook at facebook.com/USY60.