By Veronica Klein, Director of National Young Leadership at JFC-UIA
When I was eight years old, there was a day at school where students who belonged to the local Brownie or Boy Scout troupes could dress in their uniforms. Well, let me tell you that when I saw the girls wearing their brown skirts, yellow blouses, berets and badges, I knew I wanted to join them! I ran home to tell my mother that I wanted to join Brownies, she said that she’d prefer it if I joined a Jewish group. Being eight years old, all I heard was “no, you cannot be a Brownie”. The reason - that it was not Jewish - meant “bad” to me.
I was crushed.
Fast forward four years later to when I attended my first year of Jewish summer camp. I was hooked. Suddenly Jewish wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, it was actually pretty great. I met my best friends at camp. I learned how to sing Hatikvah. I gained leadership skills, independence and a new found confidence.
My connection to Jewish summer camp led to involvement in BBYO where I learned about community, Tikun Olam, social action and responsibility. In just a few years my world had expanded. I made Jewish friends across the city, from across North America and travelled to Israel. (Remember, this was pre-email, cell phones and Facebook.)
So what was different, why did this Jewish work?
The answer; I had options and I could decide what I wanted to do.
It was a natural progression for me to work as a Jewish communal professional and I haven’t looked back. I’ve worked with youth and young adults in the Jewish community for fifteen years. In that time, I have very often reflected on my personal Jewish journey to guide my work. What would have happened if I didn’t have the opportunities that I did? What if I never went to camp?
My Brownie moment was the first time in my life when “Jewish” confused me. All I wanted was to feel connected to a group. For me, Jewish summer camp was my entry point. It allowed me to feel a strong connection to the community, to Israel and develop my Jewish identity.
Times have changed. In today’s world, young Jewish adults have access to anything they want as part of a global community where the world is literally at their fingertips. For many, engaging Jewishly is just one of many options available to them. So how do we engage young Jewish adults with so much competition for their attention and time?
This is one of the major challenges facing our community.
A few weeks ago, a small group of young Jewish leaders gathered for the National Young Leadership Management Retreat to tackle this very question. In my current role as the National Director of Young Leadership at Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, I’m privileged to work and meet with people based across the country.
This team of lay leaders and professionals are passionate and committed. Each has their own Brownie story and wants to be involved in ensuring that their communities are finding ways to respond to the ever-evolving landscape of the Jewish world.
Although each community has unique challenges, they also have much in common. Young adults want options. They want to feel intimately connected to the organizations and people to which they give their time and money. But their reasons for participating are not necessarily the same as those of their parents’ generation.
They want hands-on experiences. They’re looking for ways to grow both their personal and professional networks. Many are seeking opportunities to develop their individual sense of Jewish identity. They are in control and will define what ‘Jewish’ means to them, as with Jewish community and philanthropy.
This is an exciting time to be working for the Jewish community and with young leadership; by bringing young leaders that represent our diversity to the table we’ll accomplish our goals. In conjunction with my colleagues at Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA and our national network we connect communities across the country to share best practices, as well as develop local, regional and national initiatives.
As I continue in my role at JFC-UIA, I look forward to working with local community leaders to develop ways to enhance the impact of the collective.
Originally published in the March/April Issue of THE BULLETIN (Congregation Agudas Israel, Saskatoon)