National Convention 2023: A Reflection

By Mia Finestone

I had an amazing time at National Convention last weekend! It was an incredible opportunity for me to reconnect with friends from Young Judaea that live far away and learn about important topics of today.

We participated in activities that focused on this year’s National Initiative, Women’s Rights, including discussions about reproductive rights, consent, the wage gap, powerful women leaders, and a service project where we packaged hygiene products for those in need. This was especially meaningful to me because this summer I was a part of the Women’s Rights Tikkun Group at Tel Yehudah that proposed this year’s initiative.

Along with activities on the initiative, we also learned about how Shabbat is celebrated around the world, by creating dishes from various Jewish cultures and comparing them to the ways we celebrate personally. In discussion groups, I was able to learn from my peers’ perspectives and share my own when we talked about topics such as Israel, Anti Semitism, and the roles they play in our lives today.

Throughout the whole weekend, I felt welcomed by my Young Judaea community and was never afraid to voice my opinions or share my own experiences. At our asepha (election), it was amazing to be a part of the election process for our future National Mazkirut, and it reminded me of the larger Young Judaea movement I am a part of. It was so cool to see my friends and peers be elected into positions of leadership for the movement I love so much. I had so much fun participating in our camp rituals of Shabbat, Havdalah, and rikkud. The moments I shared with my friends who I don’t often get to see, were so special to me, and reminded me of why I love going to camp.

National Mazkirut Statement Following the Killing of George Floyd

Our fellow Judaeans: It is incredibly difficult to find the right words to say during times like these. The recent and systemic acts of violence, racism, and discrimination towards Black Americans, including those in our Judaean family and the larger Jewish community, are unacceptable. Now is the time for us to lean into our discomfort; we must support those who need us, and stand in solidarity with the Black community. Judaeans have historically used our voices to speak up for what we know is right, and this is a moment to use our privilege and collective power to make change- there is work to be done, but we are not without hope.

As Jews we have an obligation to repair the world- Tikkun Olam. It is imperative that we continue to educate ourselves around injustice as well as ways to be active allies, just as we have done in the past. As Judaeans we have grown up with Ani V’ata as our anthem, and now we must embody those words.

אני ואתה נשנה את העולם

Together, through action, we will change the world.

– The National Mazkirut of Young Judaea

Virtual Northeast Convention 2020

Due to COVID-19, we were unable to host Northeast Convention at Tel Yehudah like we typically do. While this was disappointing, the Northeast Mazkirut made the best of the situation and decided to shift convention to an online format. With over 100 participants, the virtual convention was a huge success! The theme of  convention was Connecting Kehilah, because during this time especially, it’s crucial that we unite as a community. The Northeast Mazkirut wanted to learn and share about the many ways to stay connected to our Jewish identity through the current pandemic or any time where we may feel disconnected from our Judaism. The discussions included virtual Bat Mitzvahs, Zoom calls with local Synagogues, and a continuation of keeping meaningful holidays and weekly Shabbat dinners.   

On Thursday, we kicked off the weekend with some icebreakers by splitting into breakout rooms for dyadic encounters, a Young Judaea style of small group icebreakers. Each participant got to know a few other Judaeans through meaningful, intimate conversations about how they have stayed connected to their friends, family, and Judaism during quarantine. Friday night was not the same as the traditional Shabbat at Tel Yehudah, but it was lovely to see everyone dressed up, welcoming in Shabbat as a community — even if we were doing so over zoom. We wrote Shabbatograms and heartfelt letters to senior citizens through the Met Council, helping us connect to others in the larger Jewish community. We concluded Friday with a guided meditation that transported participants back to TY for a magical Shabbat.
Saturday night was an incredibly exciting and emotional part of convention. The evening was not exclusively for the teens signed up for convention, but rather for the larger Young Judaea community. Saturday night is arguably the best night of camp or convention, and it was so special that we were able to bring it online! Young Judaea alum and former National Mazkir Maccabee Raileanu started off the evening with playing some classic Shira Shketa songs, then LINYC AVP Matan Marcus-Neuman led us in Havdalah, where we welcomed in the new week and national OTP Nikki Lerner led a super fun Rikkud session.  With the recent announcement of Tel Yehudah’s cancellation, it was especially meaningful to foster a camp-like environment for the evening. Our special guest, David Weinstein, director of camp Tel Yehudah, spoke to convention. Finally, the night concluded with a concert from Noah Wilker– everyone’s favorite way to end Saturday night at camp. 

Sunday was our last day of convention, and we wrapped up with some final activities: a scavenger hunt that each participant completed from their own home where they searched for items that reminded them of different parts of their Jewish identity or life before quarantine.  The activity concluded with conversations relating to the theme of the weekend. Each northeast region (LINYC, New Jersey, and Empire) then split up for Asepha (elections). The regions then selected a new Mazkirut for the upcoming year, showing how nothing can part the Young Judaea community from its traditions. We are so excited to see how each region grows and continues to thrive over the next year and beyond proud of everyone who participated and their willingness to stay connected to the movement in a difficult time!


-Your Northeast Mazkirim

Allegra Wertheim, LINYC

Manni Burach, New Jersey

Max Canning, Empire

State of the T’nua

Shalom Young Judaea,

We are about to begin asepha, a process that has the power to shape our movement and set the course for our growth for years to come. Before we begin, I want to share a little bit with you all about what has been happening in our movement this year.

Young Judaea is a movement that is truly unique. We provide Jewish youth nationwide opportunities to explore their Jewish identity and their connection to Israel on a highly intellectual and spiritual level. As this convention has focused closely on Zionism and our personal connections to it, I truly believe that this convention will serve as a turning point for our movement. With the new connections that we have personally built with Isreal, as well as connections that the movement is renewing, such as connecting our national initiative to Israel, Young Judaea in the U.S and YJ Israel will now work much more cohesively.

Young Judaea Israel is experiencing much success in all of its programs this year. As of now, there are over 130 chanichim registered for Year Course, and that number has the potential to increase, setting the stage for the largest Year Course in a while. Our programs for students such as Onward and Amirim are bringing over 700 college students to Israel this summer for Israel programs. In addition to this, summer tour numbers for our British sister movement, FZY, have increased as well. We are so excited to see YJ Israel thriving and cannot wait to see this growth continue into the future.

Back in the U.S., our year-round movement is going through some exciting new changes as well. I am very pleased to announce the hiring of our new Director of US Programs- Sandra Marks- who will begin next week! Sandra comes to Young Judaea having worked at Capital Camps in Waynesboro, PA as the Associate Director and before that at Hillel International, where she served as the Director of Strategic Initiatives. Sandra’s love of camp and Zionist youth movements began at Camp Moshava in Indian Orchard, PA, where she was a counselor and senior staff member for 17 summers. Sandra has a long history of Jewish education, both formal and experiential. We could not be more excited to welcome her into out Young Judaea mishpacha.

In other good news, Year-Round YJ has experienced numerous successes recently. We just capped off an incredibly meaningful and successful Alternative Winter Break trip to Puerto Rico in December, the Midwest region had a successful winter convention and has their spring convention coming up in just a few weeks, and the Northeast has continued to grow and run successful programming for its chanichim. We have seen the establishment and continued success of clubs such as Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta, and are also incredibly enthusiastic about the support we are seeing now that we are in Texas.

A presence in Texas is something that we have been striving to achieve for quite a while now and we wish to continue this growth not just in the great region that is Texas, but nationwide. To do so, we will be moving in a direction as a movement in the coming months which will look into the growth of participation in national events from regions that may currently be more involved in other aspects of YJ. With the growth in national participation, we will only continue to grow stronger as a movement.

As I stand before you, I see the future of our movement right in front of me. Before we elect the board that will lead us into our next phase as a movement, everyone in this room should know that you play a huge part in that. I have said this before and I will say it again that I believe the phrase “building tomorrows leaders today” is used quite often in the world of Jewish youth movements. However, I strongly believe that this statement does not apply to Young Judaea. I can say with the utmost confidence that due to Young Judaea, the leaders of tomorrow are already here.

Thank you.

Eitan Weinkle, National Mazkir 2019-2020

Alternative Winter Break 2020

On December 22nd-27th, 2019, 30 Young Judaean teens continued the work we began in December 2018, rebuilding affected areas of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck the island over two years ago. Our group was hosted by the JCC in San Juan which is also home to the YJ Puerto Rico chapter! Diego Mendelbaum, Director of the JCC and father of 2 Judaean teens welcomed our participants with open arms.

Each day on AWB was packed with learning and volunteer opportunities. We partnered with SBP, a disaster relief organization, to rebuild 3 different homes across the northern coast of Puerto Rico. This work mainly involved debris removal and painting but a couple teens got a how-to on power tools! Our partnership with SBP began in AWB New Orleans many years ago and we hope to continue the connection for years to come.

We also painted over 3 homes and 1 school in Loiza in classic Puerto Rican greens, oranges and blues. The JCC established a close-knit relationship with the Loizan community in the aftermath of Maria. It was a joy to work with them 2 years in a row. Our participants got to know Loiza’s community members a bit better by running a Christmas carnival for the local kids and volunteering at a soup kitchen for the elderly on Christmas day. A definite highlight was sharing our rikudim with the community and learning some of their dances as well.

See photos from AWB 2020 here.

Our chanichim learned more about the hurricane’s environmental impact when we volunteered in the Camuy forest removing invasive plants and planting mangroves to serve as an additional line of defense in the case of another hurricane. This day of volunteering was sweetened with a trip to the gorgeous Mar Chiquita in Manati, a small beach cove protected from the rough Atlantic by a limestone rock wall.

We were lucky enough to celebrate Chanukah with the Puerto Rican Jewish community. Our group assisted the JCC with their annual Chanukah party by running art projects and games for the kids, performing a Chanukah skit, and leading rikudim. Some other highlights of the trip include a multi-generational Young Judaea alumni panel, where our teens learned about Puerto Rico’s history and Jewish community, and a trip to Old San Juan where we shopped around and visited old historic landmarks.

Each night chanichim gathered into small groups for “Mishpachot,” a dedicated time for reflecting on the day’s events led by our madrichim.  In these conversations our teens thought critically about ethical volunteering and discovered a new passion for political activism, equity, and environmentalism. On the last night of our trip our madrichim led a peulah entitled, “Sustain the Change,” encouraging the group to brainstorm new and creative ways we can bring these experiences home to our local communities. The impact of AWB is often felt by participants for years after they graduate. We are so grateful to all of the support we received in order to be able to run this inspiring program!