Meet the 2022-2023 Mazkirut!

Baylee Krulewitz,  National Mazkira

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.

Maya Reiken

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! 

Samara Kohn

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.

A New Sense of Purpose

As told by Teddy Fischer, YJ Alum

I started working with Member of Knesset, and former Judaean Alon Tal, because I was looking for a sense of purpose.

That’s not to say my life isn’t full – in fact, my life is packed full of meaning. I have an amazing wife and two precocious small children. I have a very meaningful and full-time job as an engineer helping bring Israel its first underground light rail. However, I felt that something was missing.

What was missing? When I made Aliyah more than 10 years ago, I served in the Air Force as a lone soldier. Every morning when I put on my uniform, I felt a sense of purpose and service. Even when doing menial tasks like guard duty, I felt that I was there for a greater purpose.

That sense of purpose was there when I was active in Young Judaea – as a high schooler, camper, teen leader, camp counselor and youth advisor. I was part of a group of like-minded people who were making a difference. One of the things I always loved about Young Judaea is that it is a movement and not just another youth group. A movement implies moving towards a goal. A movement is something dynamic and constantly changing. A movement has a purpose.

I first met Alon Tal in Israel a few years ago through a friend from Year Course before he became the first Young Judaean to serve in the Knesset. When the opportunity arose to work with him, I knew it was something I had to do.

In my time with Alon, I have taken on coordination, outreach, and constituent services for English speakers in Israel and around the world. This includes, progressive (Conservative, Reform) Jews, olim in Israel, environmentalists from around the world and anyone who cares about Israel-Diaspora relations.

We have started an English language newsletter, launched a website, and initiated a series of Zoom talks – all in the interest of being open and transparent and trying to create a dialogue with these groups we seek to represent and speak for in Israel.

Though I did not know Alon well prior to working with him, we instantly hit it off. Part of that, was our shared background as American olim in Israel with a similar past – of which Young Judaea is a big part. Though we are separated by a generation, and though we both ‘graduated’ from the movement a long time ago, many of both of our friends and colleagues to this day are people from Young Judaea. Maybe it’s because we kept in touch with our YJ friends, or maybe they were a network for both of us when we made Aliyah, or maybe because so many former Judaeans are leaders in Jewish and environmental movements in the US and in Israel, but barely a day goes by that Alon, or I aren’t in touch with a former Judaean.

For me, that purpose I was looking for is a feeling of selflessness. It is doing something for a greater good, purely for the sake of doing something you believe in (and not for a paycheck or even personal fulfillment or advancement).

Working with Alon Tal I have found that same sense of purpose that I felt as a Young Judaean, fighting together with another Judaean who has risen high, for causes I believe in: the environment, progressive Judaism, Zionism, improved Israel-Diaspora relations, and maybe even peace.

 

The Arad Masketeers – Year Course 1990 Reunion

Written by Dan Greenberg on Behalf of YC 90-91

The Gulf War started for us when the first scud missiles were launched towards Israel in January 1991. When we boarded the plane in September 1990, the last thing we were thinking about was being in sealed rooms with gas masks on. We were veteran chanichim of Sprout Lake, CJ North Carolina, CYJ West, CYJ Midwest and CYJ Texas. We had been in MH together at Tel Yehudah. We were on regional and national Mazkirut. Some of us had known each other through camp since we were 10-years old. In short, we were very excited about spending the best year of our lives together in Israel on Year Course.

Like 1990, 2020 started off just like any other year. We had our kids’ bar mitzvahs to plan, college applications to send, renovations to be done, deals to be made – one might say mundane middle age stuff. It seemed quite ordinary until the first cases of Covid started to trickle into the US at the end of January.

Both of these events, while different in scope, shaped the lives of the participants of Year Course 1990-1991 in significant ways, creating lifelong bonds that last to this day.

When Covid-19 lockdowns started, in March 2020, it seemed like every group held a Zoom reunion or services. There were Zoom calls with friends from elementary school, long lost cousins, high holiday services, and, of course, there had to be a Year Course call too.

We started our Zoom calls one Tuesday night in March 2020. We reconnected. We spoke. We didn’t stop speaking. Sometimes we ‘met’ for three hours or more! And we went on speaking, every week for two years.

Of all the Zoom reunions, this was the only one that lasted. We reminisced about Year Course. We tried to find long lost members of our group. We told stories about shenanigans in Beit Riklis, playing capture the flag in the center of our development town and the crazy times we had on kibbutz.

We remembered how our Year Course was cut short by the Gulf War. We   remembered begging our parents to let us stay in Israel. We remembered when some were forced to leave. We remembered the first siren and running to the sealed room. We remembered playing lots of basketball. We called our team the Arad Masketeers, named after the gas masks we had to wear each time there was an attack. Who could have imagined that 30 years later, when we saw each other in person, we would be forced to wear masks again?

After a while we became just like family again. We shared good news and bad. We discussed the state of American and Israeli politics. We talked. We argued. We razzed each other and we laughed. We laughed a lot. It felt like we were back in Young Judaea again. We joked that sometimes it felt like asepha.

Most importantly, just like during the Gulf War, we supported each other through this crazy pandemic. This is a very special group, very smart, very witty, very different personalities, with lots of alphas but the one thing we share is love for each other. This Zoom call became a huge support system for all of us.

We consider ourselves very lucky to still be friends with some of the finest people. While we are no longer 18-years old, while we all live in different places – spread out across the United States – while we all have our ups and downs, one thing remains true: The bond we have from Young Judaea and Year Course is eternal. 

We all feel very lucky to have these lifelong friendships and are eternally grateful to Young Judaea for bringing us together once again.

This April, a large contingent of Year Course 1990-1991, were lucky enough to organize a trip and got together in Moab, Utah to celebrate this special  friendship and our collective 50th birthdays. Like on Year course, we hiked, we kibitzed, and we laughed. We rafted, we rode UTVs, and we reminisced. We talked about then and now. We created a new chapter for Year Course 1990-1991.

As opposed to the end of Year Course though, there were no tears at the end of the trip, or uncertainty of when we would see each other again. As a few boarded the plane in Moab’s tiny airport, one person yelled from the gate “Don’t forget Tuesday’s zoom. We need to do an official sikkum!”

 

 

Next Gen Young Judaeans Unpack Yom Ha’aztmaut!

This year on Yom Ha’aztmaut, Israel is celebrating 74 years of independence! In honor of the day we reached out to six Young Judaeans who have returned from Young Judaea Gesher, or are about to head to Israel for Young Judaea Year Course, to talk Israel and Yom Ha’aztmaut!

 

Have you been to Israel before? How would you describe your connection to Israel?

 RAYNA: Gesher was my first trip to Israel, but it was not my first connection to Israel. I have spent almost a decade strengthening my connection with Israel without once stepping foot on the ground and I think that prior connection is just as important as my first visit this past summer.

DAPHNA: I had been to Israel several times to visit family. My connection to Israel was mostly based on the family and cultural traditions that I had formed through those experiences.

RYAN: I have been to Israel before Gesher.  I think my connection to Israel is strong because I’m passionate about being Jewish and am glad to be able to have Israel as a home if I would want.

SARA: I have been to Israel twice before, once with my middle school and once with Young Judaea. I think my connection to Israel has definitely strengthened over the years. Before I ever went to Israel, and even the first time I went, I felt very disconnected to it. In Israel this summer with Young Judaea, I felt that I really got to know the country and got to understand my role in the country.

MADI:  I am very fortunate to have had my Bat Mitzvah in Israel in 2016, and I visited previously in 2013. I feel a very strong connection to Israel, and I am so excited to spend my next year there.

ZEV:  I went to Israel this past summer and it was so amazing. After that trip, my connection grew stronger and it feels like a place I can call home.

Was there a particular experience on your Gesher trip that was particularly transformative in shaping your feelings about Israel? What was it, please describe in detail.

RAYNA: During our trip we had several guest speakers talk to us about different Israeli policies. These speakers ranged from topics on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Ethiopian refugees, but they all had one thing in common that opened my eyes to the people of Israel. While you could see the love for the country in the eyes, they made sure to have us understand that just because you love the country, does not mean you have to love everything the country does. This showed me that while I may not agree with every law or policy in Israel, that does not diminish the love that I have for the country.

DAPHNA: The conversation with a Jew, a Christian, and a Palestinian Arab was particularly transformative because after hearing stories and perspectives of the three individuals, I was able to form a more complete view of the dynamic between the different cultures. We heard about the difficulties of obtaining residency and citizenship for non Jewish individuals, and were able to discuss how the Israeli laws were meant to protect a Jewish state, but still presented enormous difficulties for those who were not Jewish, even if they lived within the region or within a Palestinian territory. Also, I was able to discuss the religious aspects of the issue with the Christian, particularly in response to the Palestinian Arab telling us that he did not believe Israel’s lack of right to exist was based on religious beliefs. In this conversation, the extent to which Hamas and Fatah were at odds was brought up, which was an aspect of the issue that I was aware of but not knowledgeable about.

RYAN: I was able to see in more depth how much Israel needs to protect itself from hurt.  The Israeli culture built on hope and gratitude was cool to see because it is different than in America.

Were there any preconceived notions you had about Israel that were changed after your trip?

RAYNA: I never could fully understand the sense of community that Israeli culture values until I visited. The first place we stayed was Kibbutz Keturah and it was there that I got my first taste as to how strong and welcoming the Israeli community is.

DAPHNA: I had no preconceived notions that were changed. However, I was surprised by the extent of the cultural overlap that occurred, especially in the cities.

RYAN: No, I began to see Israel as an even stronger state after leaving.

What is your favorite thing/things about Israel? (this could be anything –  place, food, people, culture)

RAYNA: My favorite thing about Israel is the people. Experiencing the way they all interact with one another is incredible. You can feel the community that has been built and makes everyone feel welcome, whether you understand the language or not.

DAPHNA: My favorite thing about Israel was the food. Ice cafe was delicious and I spent way too much money on an ice cafe at every stop. Also, shuk food was delicious and getting to experience the variety of different cultures through the foods at a shuk was filling and fun.

RYAN: I really liked the art and the food.  The Art in Tel-Aviv was really interesting and the food everywhere was phenomenal.

SARA: I love the culture in Israel, it is very unique in my eyes. The food, markets, and Judaism draws me closer and amazes me.

MADI: There are so many things I love about Israel, but I especially love how welcoming and hospitable everyone is. Everyone treats each other like family and it is so comforting to be surrounded by warm, caring people.

ZEV: My favorite thing about Israel is the culture. It is very different than what we have here in America and it is so much fun. I also love the food and people in Israel.

Do you have plans to go back to Israel?

RAYNA: I would love to go back to Israel! My brother is going on Year Course next year and I would love to find a way for me to visit him.

DAPHNA: Currently, I do not have plans. However, I have thought about doing Year Course because I would like to experience more of Israel in a cultural sense. My family and I will also be traveling back at some point to visit relatives.

RYAN: I don’t have current plans, but I will end up back in Israel at some point.

What is the importance of celebrating Israel Independence Day in 2022? How is it different from/similar to celebrating July 4th?

RAYNA: Celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut is more important in 2022 because we need to be reminded how precious and glorious it is that we have a country for the Jewish people. The way that American and Israeli Independence Day is viewed and celebrated are extremely different. The Fourth of July has barbeques and fireworks, but doesn’t really focus on the history of the country, while Yom Ha’atzmaut embraces and honors the history of the country.

DAPHNA: The importance of celebrating Israel Independence Day is to celebrate the fact that we have survived as a nation and as Jews. We are also celebrating the success of Israel’s autonomy as well as its accomplishments culturally, politically, and technologically.

RYAN: Israel’s freedom was fought for, not given, just like America’s.  It’s important to recognize Israel Independence Day in 2022 to keep the vivid culture alive.

SARA: The importance of celebrating Israel Independence Day is to show that we did it, all of the hardships we have been through as Jews will not stop us. In addition to this, it is to celebrate unity of Jews around the world coming together to celebrate their own country. This holiday is the same as July 4th is to us Americans, it is to show that we made this country.

MADI: It is so important to celebrate Israel’s Independence because it is still a fairly new country, yet it has provided so much for Jews around the world. Having a homeland is such a special aspect of the Jewish religion, and the country itself is what many Jews feel a connection to.

ZEV: The importance of celebrating Israel Independence Day in 2022 is to show how the conflict won’t break anyone’s connection to our holy land. It is similar to the Fourth of July because we celebrate our day of independence.

How might we meaningfully mark Israel’s Independence Day in North America?

RAYNA: We meaningfully celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut in America by celebrating it within our own Jewish communities. I’m sure it will look very different than how it does in Israel, but that does not mean it has to be any less memorable.

DAPHNA: We can mark Israel’s Independence Day by having meals that include Israeli food. We can also congregate with other Israelis to remember the community that Israel has formed and has continued to promote within the Jewish people.

RYAN: Cook Israeli food, play Israeli games, sing Israeli songs, and hang out with family while bonding over a shared love for Israel.

SARA: Meaningfully celebrating Israel Independence Day in America means joining together with your fellow American Jews and celebrating in whatever way you see fit.

MADI: One way to meaningfully celebrate Israel’s Independence Day in North America is to embrace Israeli culture through eating Israeli food and listening to Israeli music.

ZEV: We could meaningfully mark Israel’s Independence Day by having celebrations and having parades all throughout the country.

For our pre-Year Course interviewees…

What made you decide to take a gap year in Israel and what are you most looking forward to?

MADI: While attending Camp Young Judaea Midwest, many of my counselors attended Year Course, and they told us how life changing that year was for them. This past summer as a counselor at CYJ Midwest, I decided that I want to take a gap year after talking more with Year Course alumni.

SARA: I have wanted to go on Year Course since I was a young kid at camp getting put to bed with my counselors’ stories of their Israel experiences. I always felt like it was almost my duty to go on this 9-month adventure. I am most looking forward to getting to know the land and learning about the conflicts of the land.

ZEV: I decided to take a gap year because I wanted the experience of exploring and finding who I am and what I want to achieve before I get to college. I am looking forward to creating new friendships and connections during the trip.

What are you hoping to gain from this experience?

MADI: I am hoping to gain a deeper understanding of Israeli culture and embrace how special the country is. I am also excited to live in a different country to learn about myself and become more independent.

SARA: I am hoping to gain an understanding of the conflict happening in Israel. I feel like whenever I hear about the conflict it is very one-sided and I want to understand the side that I do not hear a loud voice from.

ZEV: I’m hoping to gain life experience and new skills to help me in my chosen career.

A National Children’s Program with YJ Roots

By Betsy Diamant-Cohen

Belonging to Young Judaea was instrumental in giving me the tools I use every day.  

In Jr. High School, each organization gave a little pitch for membership, and I chose to join Young Judaea. After two years in Tsofim, I joined Bogrim.  My good friend Joe Pomper told me that the nearby town of Westport, Connecticut was going to be starting a YJ club for Tsofim and were looking for a madricha and asked if I would take the job. Without stopping to think about the fact that I was only one year older than the kids I would be leading, I agreed.  For two years, I met regularly with our Senior Advisor, Judy Targan, to plan out the programs. Since I couldn’t yet drive, I’d take the Sunday morning train to Westport and a woman from Hadassah would transport me to whichever child’s home was hosting the meeting that day.  Through leading the club, I learned techniques for getting people’s attention such as pausing and speaking more softly rather than trying to shout loudly, and clapping to a rhyme and starting a song which brought people together and directed their attention without needing to say a word.

Becoming more active in the movement in high school meant programming on a local level. Israeli folk-dancing and singing Hebrew songs were all part of the club’s weekly meetings; we had over 70 members in the Stamford Club!  I learned how to teach songs and dances and how to speak in front of a crowd without self-consciousness.

These skills came in handy when I was elected National President / Mazkira in 1974, and was given the incredible opportunity of field-tripping regions across the US.  Concepts of peer leadership as expressed eloquently by Elana Paru in her article about supervision, the creed “enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm,” the desire to make the world a better place, and the belief that everyone’s contribution – no matter how small – makes a difference, became part of my soul. 

After attending Year Course in 1975-76, I edited the Hamagshimim journal for a year or two and led YJ clubs in the Boston Area while studying at Brandeis. I studied library science and began work as a children’s librarian. In 1986, I made Aliyah, and shortly after I arrived in Israel I began working at the Youth Wing of the Israel Museum as their English Language librarian where I offered weekly preschool story times in English through a volunteer organization called JELLY (Jerusalem English Language Libraries for Youth).

In 1988 my son was born and I attended a music class with Canadian music educator, Barbara Cass-Beggs. Her class, “Your Baby Needs Music” was so wonderful that I continued to study with Barbara until I became a certified instructor using her “Listen, Like, Learn” approach.  Since story time at the Museum was for 3-5 year-olds, I combined what I had learned from Barbara with what I already knew about sharing books with young children, and developed a 30 minute program called “Mother Goose on the Loose” (MGOL) for parents with babies from birth to age 3.  MGOL programs ran weekly in the Young Wing library up until I moved back to the US in 1998.

During a job interview at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, I asked if I could present Mother Goose on the Loose programs.  The interviewer told me that recently published brain research showed that the architecture of the brain is built in the first few years of life, and that early experiences are important for influencing a child’s successful future. Not only could I do MGOL programs, but I was encouraged to start doing them as soon as possible. The need was great since programming for children under age three in the public library world at that time was rare and library directors were anxious to offer programs that parents wanted. Most librarians did not know what to do when directors told them to start programming for infants and toddlers; library literature on programming for babies was scant, and Google was not fully developed so searching online was not an obvious option.

Since MGOL was a time-tested program, I presented at a local library conference and wrote an article about it in a national library journal. Library systems from around the country began asking me to come out and train their children’s librarians. Each of my workshops started with the story of Mother Goose on the Loose’s origins, explaining that MGOL originated from the Youth Wing of the Israel Museum with a 30-minute weekly nursery rhyme program for an audience of Jews, Muslims, Christians, people of the Bahai faith, and others. Because we were all singing together and clapping for each other’s children, a magical sense of community was formed. To this day, the same sense of community grows wherever MGOL is offered.

Because of my time in Young Judaea, I was comfortable presenting about MGOL to large crowds, telling stories, explaining how to teach songs, and using enthusiasm to breed enthusiasm.

So my workshops went smoothly and Mother Goose on the Loose spread. (I also loved being able to talk about Israel and present it in a positive light – especially when I was in areas where people had not met any Jews in person before.) MGOL won a national award in 2002, I won an award because of MGOL in 2004 and a publisher asked me to write a book about it. Eventually, MGOL became so popular that I left my salaried job at the public library and formed Mother Goose on the Loose, LLC.  I now earn my living by providing trainings, workshops, webinars, and online classes. I often present at conferences and occasionally give keynotes. I’ve had 9 books published (how-to manuals for librarians.)

I credit Young Judaea for giving me the courage to tackle new situations and meet new people with confidence, to share my ideas with others and to listen carefully when they are sharing their ideas with me.

Because of the respect given to the ideas of others, fruitful partnerships have enabled MGOL to expand and be adapted for use in hospitals, laundromats, WIC centers, prisons, homeless shelters, elementary schools, synagogues, churches, and more. Now that I’ve had have plenty of time to learn about the research behind early childhood development, I do believe that giving children a strong start in the early years can set up the framework for their success. I am grateful that Mother Goose on the Loose has been able to have a positive impact on so many people, and I am grateful to Young Judaea for giving me the exact tools needed to bring Mother Goose on the Loose this far.

Last month, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) named me as the recipient of their 2022 Distinguished Service Award. This is a huge honor; ALSC is the world’s largest organization dedicated to the support and  enhancement of library service to children. Although I did not become a Jewish Professional, I am certainly have used all of my Young Judaea skills to help make the world a better place.