this breaks my heart; WHERE ARE YOU, UNION OF REFORM JUDAISM???

This is so sad.  Yet, not surprising.  Nothing existed when I went to college either.  When I entered HUC, having spent 4 years at a Hillel dominated by Conservative and Orthodox Jews, I was shocked at the attitude many of my classmates had concerning observance and ritual.  Not to mention the lack of knowledge about those things.  I had a wonderful Hillel experience thanks to Rabbi Gerry Serotta and our program director, whose name I am forgetting (sorry, Ms. Program Director).  They were two thoughtful, active Jews who helped provide a relatively diverse experience for the Jewish students at my university.  There was a very small Reform group who held Shabbat services periodically, but few of those students were active or interested in much else having to do with Hillel.

By the time I entered HUC, I was very observant and thoroughly enjoyed my lifestyle.  No one mentioned to me that it was totally compatible with being an active Reform Jew; the opposite.  People were shocked at the rituals I had chosen to take on, not to mention many of my classmates had no clue about the basis for those rituals and didn’t bother to engage me in a conversation about why I chose to observe them.  Now, for the purposes of full disclosure during the 10 days, I’m not going to say I was all that nice about it.  I’m certain I could have been more open and accepting of their choices.  Not my strong point in those days.  I take responsibility for that.  I apologize.

The thing that was the most heartbreaking, though, was what I felt to be the rejection of me by the movement to which I had given most of my life and my soul.  I was super-active in NFTY from Jr. youth group through high school.  I attended a movement camp for several years and was very excited to continue my involvement in college.  Then . . . nothing.  I was not taken seriously by my Conservative and Orthodox fellow Hillel-ites, and there wasn’t much going on for me as a Reform Jew.  By the time I got to grad school, it became clear to me that there was really no place for me in the movment as an active, thinking, observant Jew.  I left HUC and completed my degree at JTS, where I had a wonderful, fulfiling experience.

The truth was, and is, I am not really a Conservative Jew.  However, I was clearly not a Reform Jew.  I felt rather ‘post-denominational’, and I still consider myself in that category, although I am more comfortable now in the Reform movement thanks to our amazing congregation and the ever-so-effective persuasion of my husband.

With the URJ’s removal of funding in the last year for college outreach, I challenge each of you to look into your local colleges and universities.  Find out what is being offered to non-Orthodox Jewish students, if anything.  Involve yourself.  Adopt a student or two (or three or four!).  Get your temples to extend themselves.  MAKE IT HAPPEN.

Because, clearly, our movement has dropped the ball.

7 thoughts on “this breaks my heart; WHERE ARE YOU, UNION OF REFORM JUDAISM???

  1. I, too, apologize if I was insensitive to your choices during that first year of Rabbinic school, when you sat next to me in kitah. And, apology accepted for the historically based Classical Reform Jew I remain.

    Shanah tovah,

  2. Shalom Rebbetzin,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences – my Jewish college experience was not so unlike yours, with essentially nothing available for Reform students – this was, of course, before the existence of KESHER.

    This past spring, I began my tenth year working for the URJ. I have seen firsthand the professionals in the youth programs department who have continued to look for ways to support all Reform Jews all along the age spectrum. College students are no exception.

    I’d like to share some information about what the URJ continues to do to support college students, including the following programs and projects:

    – Reform On Campus (ROC) grants for innovative programming from the Men of Reform Judaism
    – The KESHER College Program Fund
    – The URJ College Committee as part of the governance of the URJ North American Board
    – NFTY Alumni engagement, beginning with a gathering at the URJ Biennial in Toronto
    – Reduced rates for attendance at all URJ North American events
    – The annual College supplement in Reform Judaism Magazine
    – Congregational consultation regarding working with college students
    – Packing for College
    – The college section on
    – Senior Send-Off Shabbat
    – Taglit-Birthright Israel: URJ KESHER Trips
    – Reform Semester in Israel at the University of Haifa
    – Shnat Netzer, The Netzer Year
    – Kibbutz Lotan: Green Apprenticeship
    – Kibbutz Lotan: Peace, Justice and the Environment
    – Tikkun Olam: Tel Aviv-Jaffa
    – Machon Kaplan, through the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism
    – HUC-JIR College Colloquia
    – The Olim Fellowship, through our URJ camps
    – The Cornerstone Fellowship, through our URJ Camps
    – Off-season programs and opportunities for URJ Camp staff

    Though with diminished support and funding, KESHER continues on campuses and affords remarkable opportunities to students across North America and in Israel. Though I understand and share your disappointment regarding the lack of resources focused on college students and hope that, in the future, those resources increase, the URJ and the Reform movement continue to look for new and expanded ways to reach out to and connect with college students.

    Those of us passionate about the cause continue to look for ways to enhance what we do have control over. Our hands are outstretched to build that partnership together for the sake of every Reform Jewish college student. There is certainly a case for congregational support here, and I hope we can continue to move that conversation forward in a meaningful way.

    Melissa Frey Goldman
    Director, URJ Kutz Camp & Associate Director, NFTY

  3. Yahser kocha!

    As a Jew who cannot answer the “what are you” question in 25 words (or even 25 minutes!) I appreciate the position you found (and continue to find) yourself in.

    Of all the formal movements, one would think the URJ would be a ready-made place for Jews who want to explore observance at all ends of the spectrum. But my experience is that it doesn’t. You cross a line and suddenly “poof”! You are “not us” all of a sudden.

    But this isn’t a URJ bashing comment. While “post-denominational” is perhaps the most accurate label we can find (and it even makes me feel a bit superior. As if to say “I’ve grown beyond all those silly labels”) it’s also not helpful by and large. My children couldn’t make it to Israel without movement programs. Nor could they attend the camp that in fact started us on our massive Jewish journey a few years ago.

    The URJ (and movements in general) provide the framework for membership – as in, they give people something consistent to look at and say “oh, that’s us” (or not). They also provide the mirror for individuals to say “I can (or can’t) support that” and then do something about it.

    So hopefully this post is the start of a message which the URJ will hear and address.

    Here’s to an engaged 5770!

  4. Pingback: The Edible Torah » Blog Archive » Blessed Tension, Holy Contradictions

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