Friday, January 4, 2013

Deconstructing the Success of USY's International Convention: A Useful Blueprint For Our Future

 It’s hard to believe that a week has elapsed since the magic that was the 2012 USY International Convention in Boston.

NERUSY's delegation streams into
IC's Opening Session
With “God and Spirituality” as its central theme, the ruach was palpable…and incredible. Imagine more than 800 teens from around the world forming a focused fellowship, united and cohesive. USY’s International Convention was not the place for anyone seeking peace and quiet; the singing, dancing and hugging was constant. Every time I looked around I saw committed and passionate young men and women steeped in the pure unfettered joy of positive Jewish identity.

The experience was profoundly uplifting…and instructive. Here was the shimmering future of Conservative Judaism. Here were the leaders for the next generation, teaching us the essential truth that a kehilla need not have walls; indeed, that the truest meaning of kehilla transcends the concept of place.

But of course, the convention was not just one big communal hug. The programming, which culminated in an impressively well-attended rally against gun violence in America in Copley Square (drawing substantial media attention), is what made this gathering such a success. Important conversations were facilitated. In venues both large and small, USYer after USYer talked about the power of community as a safe place to explore their inner, deeper selves.

Walking through the convention sessions, I noted the most substantive discussions on God and spirituality I have ever witnessed, with any age group, anywhere.

What I observed provides a useful blueprint for a successful kehilla. At the heart of everything, a kehilla must be the convener of important, timely and relevant conversations.

To paraphrase a famous movie, build the conversation and they will come.

Some further thoughts on what worked, spectacularly: rally guest speakers Colin Goddard (an advocate for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007) and Pastor Corey Brooks of Project Hood (the Chicago-based activist whose Walk Across America to End Gun Violence commenced at the USCJ headquarters this past summer) were hugely inspirational, drawing the attention and respect of every USY’er.

At the rally, the reading of incidents of gun violence in each region of the country demonstrated that gun violence is a pressing, contemporary social issue – not black or white, not faith-based, not rich or poor, not limited to city or suburb.

The rally was a vehicle for empowerment and the best kind of social activism for our young people. While the incidence of gun violence, especially after the Sandy Hook massacre, is so disturbing, instead of feeling powerless to effect change, the rally gave our young people the ability to send a message to the adults that care about them – as well as those in public office – that they expect us to create a society that keeps them safe.  One after the other they shouted, “Enough is Enough!”

Furthermore, the Nativ alumni tisch-- which took place on Friday night – captured the very best of Conservative Judaism.  At this deeply moving event, 50-plus alumni of our gap-year program in Israel – who had come to staff IC -  brought the of Shabbat in Israel to the convention in Boston. It was beyond Jewish literacy; yes, they knew the words and the references to Bible and prayer in the traditional songs of Shabbat. Yes, they understood the references to creation and God’s love for humanity and Israel and the hope of redemption. They got all that and they sang in glorious harmony.

But what took place at the Friday night tisch was more than Jewish fluency or a program led by Jewish professionals. It was homegrown and real and pluralistic and inclusive. It was spontaneous and inspiring. It was a taste of Olam ha-Ba, not the distant afterlife but the immediate future – our next generation, suffused with passion and love. Modern. Engaged. Focused on fixing what is wrong in our world, united in the quest to create an Eden on earth, empowered by the gift of finding fellowship in a common vision.

What took place is replicable. Huge props to Rabbi Dave Levy, Karen Stein, Josh Ull and all our USY staffers. May the lessons of this most recent USY International Convention inspire us as we approach our Centennial celebration and beyond.

1 comment:

  1. As a staunch Conservative Jew, a Youth Commissioner (5 of our USYers attended IC), and a former Nativ parent, kudos to the movement for bringing together another amazing IC. But let's remember that it is the teen-to-teen aspect that is really crucial - sharing and modeling and learning from other committed teens is powerful. A really important thank-you goes to the parents who help their teens prioritize Jewish activities and events with all the competition out there.