Year Course: A New Adventure – Anna Stewart

For years, I have been anxiously anticipating going on Young Judaea Year Course and taking on an amazing new adventure. Now that I am finally here, it has been more than I could have imagined. From meeting new friends from all around the world, to having fascinating discussions with my peers, to weekend trips around the country, and even just days relaxing on the beach, these past three months have been amazing. Already, this experience has been transformative and one I know will have an impact on the rest of my life.

Year course brings together a group of people from different backgrounds and gives them the opportunity to learn from each other and their greater community. By providing each participant with classes, volunteer placements, chances to visit different groups from across the country, and free time to explore on their own, it opens up each person’s mind to new points of view and opinions. Not only this, but people from different countries, including scouts from Israel and an FZY delegation from England, are all living in one building and sharing their different cultures. One of the most remarkable things about Year Course is that it is a place where people are both learning to grow up and are learning from the new people and places around them. This mix of education means it is not an unusual sight to find people discussing their views on different important topics at the kitchen table at midnight while their grilled cheese is cooking.

So far, my most significant experience has been my volunteer placement at UNITAF, a daycare for children of refugees who do not have Israeli status. Being exposed to a new community of people who are working to survive in a country that they did not originate from has had a large impact on my Israel experience. Being surrounded by teachers who are passionately working to help kids and families has taught me so much about giving back to both your own community, and others in need. Everything I have done thus far has shown me different sides of Israeli culture, something I could not have experienced on any other program, and I am so excited to see what the next six months will have in store.

My First Time (Voting That Is)


As someone who has been a part of Young Judaea for a long time, voting had always been something I looked forward to. From learning about the importance of the State of Israel from Camp Judaea as a kid to my experience in DC on the Hadracha Program at Camp Tel Yehudah, I had been raised to comprehend the power one vote can have in an election. It was Young Judaea that inspired me to become politically active: taking part in AIPAC summits and lobbying my representatives in favor of Israel and even volunteering for a local congressional candidate’s campaign.

Before I went out to vote, I spent a long time researching candidates and their positions, including watching local debates and comparing them to my stances. I live in the Ninth Congressional District of North Carolina, a highly contested district which was considered up for grabs by polls and political pundits. Through the leadership experience and knowledge, I had received from attending YJ summer camps, I established where I stood on the candidates and the constitutional amendments up for referendum. I reached out to other young people who were first-time voters and friends and acquaintances of my parents, letting them know the importance to vote as well as explaining to them who I was voting for and why.

On Saturday, November 3rd, I went and I voted early. Though the process was simple and quick, I walked out feeling like I had made an impact on the future of our country. Days later on election day, I watched the results come in from the news, and I followed my district’s congressional races closely. Knowing that one of those ballots counted was mine gave me a sense of empowerment. It was through Young Judaea that I became interested and educated on the issues facing our country and the Jewish state. YJ also gave me the opportunity to live in a pluralistic environment where I could hear many different opinions and ideas.


This year, as I turned 18 in August, was the first time I was eligible to vote in the Texas 2018 midterms. Living in Austin, a very liberal city, voting craze was rampant. Everyone at my school was urging any person eligible to vote. The younger students were handing out voting guides so that we would know who we would want to vote for. On the second-to-last day of early voting, my music teacher took me and several students to a nearby voting station during lunch. I was in and out within 30 minutes. My friends on the other hand, took about 10 minutes longer, as they were more thorough. My music teacher texted our teacher to ask if it was okay that we were gonna be late. Our teacher responded, “Of course, we need more people going to the polls”.

Even though I am disappointed that Beto O’Rourke lost the election, I am hopeful for the future of our state and country. According to The Medium, the early voting rate among 18-29 year-olds in Texas increased by nearly five times compared to 2014 midterms. This high level of young voter engagement excites me and my friends about the 2020 elections!

Getting Involved Through Civic Engagement

Anti-semitism is on the rise, racism is on the rise, hate is on the rise. Every hour in the United States a hate crime is committed. Someone who is full of hatred isn’t going to stop because of laws or armed guards. They will stop because of love and civic engagement.

The people of the Young Judaea community and the people of the world need to unite to stop all the blinding hate. We need civic engagement. Civic engagement is “working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes”. Civic engagement leads to change. Only we can vote a change, make a change and be the change we want to see. It all starts in your local community.

You have to take action if you want to see change. There are so many opportunities in every community for volunteerism or political participation. Communities need people to be more active. Volunteering has the power to transform communities and improve lives. Civic engagement is a tool which we can use to better the next generations. By teaching them to take direct action, be politically involved and volunteer they can develop the skills and confidence to better society. People who participate in civic engagement are healthier, wealthier and more satisfied with their lives.

Every community is plagued with issues that can be solved. Many times people are unaware of the severity of the problems. If you educate or campaign about the issue then it would be almost impossible for people to be unaware. To be more involved in your communities all you have to do is go to your town website to find more information.
If you want to see a decrease in anti-semitism make it happen through civic engagement. People need to be educated not to hate and your community is the perfect place to start. You can make advertisements and post them around the community, create a program to be held at local schools, start a social media campaign, or become more politically active by joining a campaign or starting your own. Next Tuesday is the perfect opportunity for you to start making and seeing the change you want. Don’t forget to go out and vote!

~ Izzy Canning National Pirsum, Poughkeepsie NY

Young Judaea National Convention 2019 – Camp Twin Lakes, Winder Georgia

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This convention was not my first. It was certainly not the first I attended, and not the first I helped plan. However, the experience of devoting over three months to developing an idea into a weekend was significantly different.

From the beginning of the year, National Maz spent hours discussing what was crucial to Young Judaea as a movement. What was worth our limited time?

It was incredible to see the abstract ideas we had discussed on way-too-long maz calls and random-confusing-brainstorm-documents come to life. Through analyzing our personal identities in different situations to questioning how Young Judaea identifies as Zionist and Pluralist today, we discussed small details and looked at the big picture. We were incredibly reflective as a convention when tackling questions of compromise and biases.

Describing the success and excitement of those specific moments, however, does not do justice to the most significant part: the atmosphere. Convention felt wholesome. I believe we embodied the theme in many ways. We worked to cultivate a cohesive collaborative community, and I would like to thank everyone for contributing to accomplishing that. Participation in peulot and discussion groups reminded me why I love Young Judaea: because it is a concentration of people ready to learn, engage, and tackle the difficult complex questions.

~ Naama Sarfati-Magill, National Bogrim (teen) Programmer – Brooklyn, NY



Young Judaea is a place where I truly find my people in a welcoming, supporting space. I can only describe the feeling I get from YJ with one word: community. It was fitting to me that the theme for National Midwinter Convention was cultivating community. From the minute that the theme was introduced to the convention body, I felt an immediate connection to it. Being from North Carolina where there is no YJ club, I don’t get the opportunity to participate in year-round very often. Convention is the one place where I feel that special sense of community. I was extremely excited to get to spend a weekend dedicating my time to learning how to cultivate a community.

Each peulah throughout the weekend was attached to this theme. One peulah in particular stuck with me. The activity was a simulated murder mystery at Kibbutz Ketura. After learning a little bit about the history and life on the kibbutz, we were divided into roles (some fictional and some real) and worked to solve the “murder.” A kibbutz is a unique community and in simulating that community, it was clear how much everyone relies on each other and how a single problem can affect the whole group. I immediately felt a difference in the energy of the room as soon as the “murder” was announced. In addition to the really fun social aspect of the peulah, our sicha afterward helped me understand the value of living in a kibbutz community.

Convention also helped me cultivate a community between participants. I grew up going to Camp Judaea and attended Tel Yehudah for the first time this summer. I had a lot of friends going to convention that hadn’t gone to TY and a lot of friends that had. With different junior camp experiences and living in different places, my friends didn’t know each other. It was really meaningful to see all of the people that had played such big parts in my YJ experiences come together as one group.

Convention and the theme of community demonstrated how relevant and significant building community is in our world today. We don’t always realize the ways that we cultivate communities everyday, but it is important to learn the skills in order to do so. National Midwinter convention was such an amazing experience, especially because of the theme, and I can’t wait to be there next year!

~ Sivan Ornstein-Luks, Chapel Hill NC

Alternative Winter Break Puerto Rico Summary

This past December, 64 teens and 10 staff coming from 13 states and Puerto Rico, volunteered over 1,800 hours helping to rebuild homes and bring a bit of fun to children in post Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico.  Although we had considered Puerto Rico as an AWB site before the hurricane, it was clear to both Young Judaea teen leadership and the staff that there was no other place that needed help more than Puerto Rico. The fact that Puerto Rico is home to generations of Young Judaeans and the use of the JCC as our  “home base” gave us what we needed to make this one of the most impactful Alternative Winter Breaks in the program’s 11 year history.

Not only were we lucky to receive a generous donation from an alumnus, but teens raised over $8,000 in a self-fundraising campaign to pay for their participation.

Over the course of the 4 full days of work, teens and staff repaired or painted 13 homes in the communities of Guaynabo, Loisa, Morovis and San Juan. They built and ran two carnivals and helped to feed and distribute much needed supplies to residents of Morovis.  However, no group can just descend upon a place and begin to work. We had the privilege of partnering with some outstanding volunteer organizations. Nechama – The Jewish Response to Disaster, trained and guided us in repairing roofs, SBP (St. Bernard Project) gave us the tools and direction to paint and repair flooring and infrastructure in homes and the municipalities of Loisa and Morovis connected us with residents to paint and clean some of the most damaged homes we had seen. We had the pleasure of working with local volunteers on all of these projects.

As is the approach with all Young Judaea programs, the teens spent each evening diving into topics surrounding the situation in Puerto Rico before, during and after the storm through engaging educational programs.  They learned about the Island’s politics and economic struggles, heard testimony from hurricane survivors and first responders and discussed life changing issues facing community leaders and residents a year-and-a-half after the tragedy.

IsraAid, an Israel based humanitarian aid organization that provides access to safe water and mental health and psycho-social support to communities recovering from María, came in on the first night to run a simulation meant to educate the teens about their work and the idea of humanitarian aid in general. The teens also participated in staff and peer led activities around a number of topics including an emotional journey to understand what happened on September 17th and afterwards through videos and pictures and an activity that explored how impoverished communities are disproportionally affected by natural disasters.

One evening the group heard from Puerto Rico residents and Young Judaea community members David Solomiany, Saul Kleiman and Diego Mendelbaum who spoke about everything from the history of the Jewish community in Puerto Rico, opinions about independent statehood and of course, the Jewish community’s response to Hurricane Maria.  On the final evening, as is the tradition for AWB, the teens participated in “Sustain the Change” which prepares them for their return home and sets the stage for them to continue working toward a better world.

After volunteering in Morovis, the group traveled through the breathtaking mountain area to visit Iglesia Cristiana Ministerios Unido, an evangelical church about 45 minutes from the town. This very special congregation, houses a Holocaust Museum established in 2007. The museum has visitors from churches, schools and camps from all over the Island.  There to tour the museum, the teens were moved by the blessings given to them by the congregants and listened in wonder to the story of this little museum.

Although our educational journey is extremely important, our nightly “mishapachot” meetings gave the teens the opportunity to debrief on the day’s work and other experiences and discuss important issues.

Of course the teens and staff needed some down-time to just “be”. One afternoon, the group had the opportunity to hang out at the beach, take a pleasant hike to see a lagoon and tour Condado, and spend an afternoon in Old San Juan.

We were extremely privileged to have Diego Mendelbaum, Director of the JCC in Puerto Rico as our partner and host for the program. As a community leader, Diego leveraged his relationships with the leadership of the municipalities of Loiza and Morovis and other strong connections to help build every aspect of the program, from the food, to the work to the more relaxing aspects of the trip.  Knowing that we had a home base with our family there to support us, made our week in Puerto Rico more meaningful, more important and more comfortable.  Laura Mendelbaum, Diego’s wife and JCC Administrator made sure that everything was perfect and the group felt at home.

There is no question that there is so much more work that needs to be done in Puerto Rico.  When asked if Young Judaea should return to the island in 2019, the answer was a resounding “yes”. Young Judaea returned to New Orleans nine times because the effects of Katrina were so devastating to that city.  A final decision will be made in the coming weeks.




National Initiative for 2019-2020 Chosen

The initiative for the 2018-2019 program year was one dedicated to Women’s Health, both awareness and activism for women’s health.  The “action” was to collect women’s hygiene products at Young Judaea National and local events and donate them to shelters and other organizations. This project was successful in collecting thousands of items.  The collection process will not end with the year and the teens will continue to collect and donate.

The planned initiative for 2019-2020 will focus on the environment. 10th grader Sofie Paternite brought the initiative to the convention body. Upon its selection, Sofie wrote “The national initiative for this coming year is environmentalism and climate change. I’m so excited to see the level of implementation of this topic throughout year round young Judaea as it has become more relevant in modern discussion. The idea for YJ to take charge on this topic stemmed from many social media posts regarding the importance of not using plastic straws as it kills marine life. With much thought and discussion, it seemed to be an age appropriate and hands on topic YJ could be involved with”.  A group of teens will begin their research soon on the topic to be ready for a full launch at Tel Yehudah this summer.