As we are all following the unfolding events in Israel with much concern and solidarity, we feel that we can no longer sit on the sidelines as observers but that we must fully and unequivocally voice our concern and articulate our position in alignment with Young Judaea’s core values.
Israel is our place, and now, more than ever, our Israeli chaverim must hear that we are standing along side them in solidarity and mutual concern.
Tell is a bit about your background professionally and personally, including what Young Judaea programs you are an alumnus of?
I’m originally from Brookline, MA and joined Young Judaea as a freshman in high school. The region had decided to start a club in Brookline and I was recruited with a few other people to help. I went to Tel Yehudah for the Machon, and went to Israel on the Machon L’Madrichei Chutz La’Aretz (Year Course 1978). I also worked for hamagshimim.
I received my MSW in social work and spent a year doing field work in Tel Aviv. I’ve worked for a number of Jewish organizations including Hillel.
What inspired you to get involved in environmental causes?
In 1997 I went to Yosemite National Park for a wedding, and we went on the most popular day hike Vernal Falls. At the top of the mountain I saw something that changed my life: a solar compositing toilet. I found it to be a very interesting technology. There was a whole sign explaining how it worked and because of that toilet, I got involved in environmental issues.
After that I moved to New York and got involved with various environmental organizations and eventually went back to school to get my PHD in Environmental Psychology at City University of New York. My research was related to NYC water issues and making the water system more sustainable. I started to get involved in grassroots activism to ban fracking in New York State.
At the time the Jewish environmental world was growing and I became involved with COEJL and Hazon and was part of the Jewish organization of the People’s Climate March in 2014.
It was at this time that became more interested in advocacy. Everything we were doing, it all depends on policy and what kind of policies are passed. When I was with Hazon’s Jewish Greening Fellowship they developed a group buying program for solar rooftop systems for Jewish Agencies and New York City had recently passed a law about community solar. We couldn’t have done this without that law.
How did the Jewish Earth Alliance get started?
After relocating to the D.C. area from New York, I found some like-minded people to start the Jewish Earth Alliance – a grassroots, all-volunteer network that calls on congress for climate action. We try to make it easy for Jewish communities around the country to lobby the federal government and administration for climate solutions.
We recently had a webinar to prepare activists for the new congress and had 300 people attend! This event is leading up to a Tu BiShvat virtual lobby day we are organizing.
How did Young Judaea lead you to where you are today?
I always tell everyone that my start as an organizer came from Young Judaea. I give a lot of credit to Young Judaea for my ability to be an organizer and to lead.
Young Judaea was the first time in my life when I found friends who cared about what I cared about. We did things with each other and you build relationships through experiences. I mean, going to Israel for a year, back in those days you didn’t call home. Your friends were everything.
I do attribute a bit of my interest in the environment to Young Judaea. I was not an outdoorsy person before I went to Israel, going to Israel we spent a lot of time outside, hiking and those things, learning about geology and the agriculture of Israel. Looking back on it, it did influence me.
Why are you specifically a Jewish climate activist?
I was raised as a Jew and my beliefs and values come from Judaism, and I feel like I need to act on them. It’s not enough to just talk about protecting the earth. A lot of our holidays connect to nature and appreciation and awe for creation. We need to act on those values.
2. A lot of our holidays and rituals relate to nature and that makes it really meaningful for people to learn about environment and take action in the context of Jewish tradition. Lobbying on Tu BiShvat is something people can relate to.
3. We just need everyone. There is a slogan in the climate movement, “to change everything we need everyone” and, we need the Jews too. It’s much easier to organize people in groups and communities than to do it one by one.
What can young people do today to get involved in environmental causes and climate activism?
There are many ways that you can get involved but the main thing is to find a place where you feel comfortable and feel like you can make a difference. My work with Jewish Earth Alliance is about activating citizens, we are citizen lobbyists. You don’t have to be paid to be involved and make a difference.
Be Courageous. Another thing we learned from Young Judaea. Our motto was ‘Ani ve’ata neshaneh et haolam’, you and I will change the world. I wasn’t that courageous when I was younger, but over time I realized I can be. Fortunately in both America and Israel we can speak up, we can make a difference, we should take advantage of that.
There are so many things we can do as citizens that seem very intimidating, but the main thing is to find like-minded people, join a group, and get involved. Because it’ all about how we can change the world together.
It is Friday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day and I write this from Rwanda on a Young Judaea alumni mission where 30 Judaeans are learning about and bearing witness to the atrocities of the Rwandan Genocide, and seeing and being inspired by the power of one person’s vision of tikun olam, Anne Heyman, z”l, Judaean and founder of the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village. Modeled after Yemin Orde, a youth Aliyah village in Israel, it was built as a school and community for those orphaned as a result of the Rwandan genocide.
Today, the entire village is commemorating the Holocaust, but the irony is not lost on any of us that as we say “never again.” We now know that in the years following the Shoa, humanity continued to perpetuate atrocities through other genocides. The Rwandan Genocide was in 1994, but there were many others.
The village stands as a testament that each of us as individuals has the power to affect change and to fix this broken world by choosing one crack and dedicating ourselves to repairing it. Pete Davis taught us in his book, Dedicated, about long-haul heroes. Anne was a long-haul hero living her Judaean values through her actions. For the past few years, Young Judaea has brought 20–40 Year Coursers a year to live and volunteer in the village for a month and to be ignited by her vision.
In the fall, my son and his peers traveled to Poland as part of Year Course and my husband Avi and I wrote him this letter in preparation. I am sharing it today because it feels even more relevant.
Perhaps a more fitting imperative than “never forget” is “actively remember” so that we find some small way to act to ensure that it will never happen again…to anyone.
It feels like just yesterday we were holding you in our arms in an apartment in Manhattan. Before any of your siblings were born. And long before you became the man you are becoming. It is hard to believe that you, our bachor– first born, are off in Israel for your gap year. Where did the time go? Just yesterday we were telling you bedtime stories about our adventures in Israel and now you are there on your own coming-of-age pilgrimage in the Promised Land.
Amidst this exploration of Jewish life in the Jewish homeland, you are going to Poland to visit a place where many Jews lived, and to the death camps where many Jews died. It can sometimes be overwhelming to come face to face with the experience of evil. We want to give you permission to feel whatever it is that you are feeling, even if your instinct is to not let your guard down because you will likely be playing your usual role of caring for others who are breaking down. You should allow yourself to be in the moment and to process what you are seeing and how it informs your view of yourself, your community, and of humanity.
Aba and I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of 6 million Jews and 5 million additional human beings until we held you as a baby. In our hands was infinite potential. It was only when we understood our responsibility to one life in a real way that we could imagine the real cosmic pain of killing 11 million people. Each of those people also had mothers or fathers who held them. And as you consider the magnitude of such a genocide on humanity, remember that this targeted, systematic, and calculated near-annihilation of a specific group, namely our people, is what makes the Shoah particularly horrific.
In going to Poland, we hope that you come to contemplate a basic human flaw- that we all must contend with the evil in the world and the reality that we are either perpetrating it or not doing nearly enough to stop it. As we learned in Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” We must be witness to the existence of evil to remind ourselves to do everything we can to fight it.
But still, that is not the whole reason for going. As Jews- we do not go to fetishize death. While our people have been hunted- we are not prey. As Jews we celebrate life; despite or maybe because of all the horrors we have experienced in life we know how to laugh and get the most out of life. We go to Poland to remind ourselves what life is worth living for. The long history of Antisemitism is as old as the day is long.
Open your heart to the pain of others and open your mind to Jewish practice. Living a Jewish life is a whimsical act in being counter cultural. Open your hands to Jewish life and you will take flight, and nothing will get in your way. Our sending you on a pilgrimage to Poland is not because of our desire to imprison you in the shackles of Judaism’s victimhood, but to help you realize this precious tradition you have inherited. You are the keeper of the faith. The future is in your hands.
Let this unspeakable tragedy and manifestation of gross injustice further fuel your commitment to right the wrongs in this world to be a rodef tzedek – pursuer of justice. From the moment we held you in our hands, we realized the infinite potential you have. You will have many choices to make throughout your life and all will be an expression of who you are as an individual, as an inheritor of a deep legacy and tradition, and as a citizen of the world. We hope that your choices are personally meaningful, universally relevant, and distinctively Jewish.
Hi! I’m Baylee Krulewitz and I’m from West Hartford, Connecticut. As National Mazkira, I hope to give back to the movement that’s provided me with the friends and memories of a lifetime. I’ve been involved in Year Round YJ for three years now, but I’ve been going to camp for nine. In terms of YJ’s future, I hope to promote year round events in areas outside of the Northeast, as well ensure that we’re including various opportunities for social action in our programming. Outside of Young Judaea, you can usually find me shopping or going out to eat with my friends. I’m looking forward to recruiting many new teens into Year Round YJ!
Mia Avni, Administrative Vice President
Hi! I’m Mia Avni, the 2022-23 National AVP. I’m from Westfield, NJ and have been involved with Young Judaea since I was nine years old, a former camper of both Sprout Lake and Tel Yehudah. I started participating in year-round YJ programs in 8th grade and got my first elected Mazkirut position last year as NJ AVP. I was inspired to run for National Mazkirut and be more active in the movement because it has given me some of the best friends and summers I could ever ask for while also educating me on what it means to be a Jew and my connection to Israel. In my free time, you’ll find me listening to music, playing with robots, and perfecting my coffee-making skills. I’m beyond excited to work alongside this year’s National Mazkirut and can’t wait to see what we accomplish!
Uri Levinson, Merakez Zarit
Hi! My name is Uri Levinson and I’m from Monterrey, Mexico. I went to CYJ Texas and to Camp Tel Yehudah both for 2 years, I’ve been a part of YJ since 2018 and I’m still amazed by how amazing this movement is and how it has helped me grow, learn and make friends while having a fun time. This is why I wanted to be on National Maz as soon as I heard about it. I love playing soccer and baseball, watching sitcoms, hanging out with friends and spending time with my family. I am really excited to be Merakez Zarit as I look forward to bringing more international teenagers into YJ, working with fellow National Mazkirut members to have a great National Convention and enhance year-round YJ.
Gabriella Stein, Chavurah Programmer
Hello everyone! My name is Gabriella Stein and I am from Long Island, New York. I have been involved with Young Judaea for over 10 years now. I started going to Camp Sprout Lake in 2013 and my Young Judaea journey has moved at a rapid pace since. I looked forward to camp every summer up until this past year when I went on Gesher. I got to go to Israel with all the people I used to count down the days until the first day of camp with. After Gesher I went back to Sprout Lake to work as a counselor. I was lucky enough to be last year’s LINYC Bogrim Programmer and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have the opportunity to be the first Chavurah Programmer on the National Mazkirut. I am so honored to be able to represent an organization that has given me so much. I can’t wait to build this position and give all the other budding Young Judaeans a chance to blossom in such a wonderful community!
Noa Ganz, Social Action & Israel Programmer
Hey everyone! I’m Noa Ganz, this year’s Social action and Israel programmer. Last year, I was Social action programmer on LINYC Maz. I am so excited to be the first Israel programmer and introduce new ideas to Young Judaea. YJ means the world to me, as it has introduced me to life long friends, given me the best summers of my life, and shaped me into who I am today. Last summer, I went on Gesher then worked at Sprout Lake as a counselor. Outside of YJ, I love to write, listen to music, and hang out with friends! Something you didn’t know about me is that my favorite fruit is pineapple. I am also allergic to pineapple.
Hi! My name is Maya Reiken and I am from White Plains, NY. For the past eight years, I have been a part of Young Judaea, attending Camp Sprout Lake, Camp Tel Yehudah, Gesher, and participating in Year-Round YJ. I spent the last two years on the Empire Mazkirut, first as the Social Action Programmer and then as the Bogrim Programmer. Young Judaea helped shape who I am today and gave me lifelong friends, so I am thrilled to be the first Rosh Programmer. This year, I want to change the way the programming workshops are done by making them more engaging and informative. In my free time, I love to hang out with my friends, bake, watch New Girl, and listen to Taylor Swift. I’m excited to take on this role and work with my fellow National Mazkirut members, the regional Mazkiruyot, and regions that want to be more actively involved in YJ to provide them with the resources they need to succeed and to keep building the YJ community through our events and programming!
Hello Judaeans! My name is Samara Kohn and I am from Queens, NY. I have been a part of Young Judaea for about two years. My first taste of YJ was Hadracha summer 2021. After having the best summer of my life I decided to stick around for year round programming and became LINYC Pirsum. Some of my hobbies include playing with my hamster, George, warming the bench on my school’s volleyball team, and of course, making insta casual again. On weekends you can most likely find me hanging out with my fellow maz members in Manhattan while spamming my social media accounts. I am greatly honored to be your National Pirsum and most of all, having access to the National YJ Instagram account.