United Synagogue Youth
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The USY logo
|Headquarters||New York, NY 10017|
Senior Director of Teen Engagement
|Dana K. Prottas|
Continental Engagement Supervisors
|Maury Jacobs and Julie Marder|
|International Executive Board, International General Board, International Youth Commission|
|United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ)|
The organization was founded in 1951, under the auspices of the Youth Commission of what was then the United Synagogue of America.
The First USY Chapter
Under the leadership of both Rabbi David Aronson and Rabbi Kassel Abelson, the first USY chapter was founded at Beth El Synagogue in Minneapolis in 1948 to provide for the social and spiritual needs of its teens. Soon, other synagogues began following suit.
Founding the National Organization
“The Youth Commission unanimously agrees that the teenage groups come under the general supervision of the Youth Commission. Teenage groups should include boys and girls of high school level, 13 to 17 years inclusive…The Youth Commission shall concern itself with non-scholastic group work for teenagers.”
With these words, on March 19, 1951 USY was formed nationally at its first convention, bringing together delegates from synagogues and other youth groups across the country, along with lay and professional youth workers of USCJ.
All told, more than 500 people, representing 65 communities from 14 states and Canada attended the first official meeting of USY.
At that convening, under the leadership of the newly elected national president, Paul Freedman, the two basic documents of the organization, Aims and Objectives and the USY Constitution, were adopted.
USY’s Tzedakah Program
In 1956, the Two-o-Nine tzedakah (charity) project began (later revamped to become Tikun Olam (Repairing the World), the social action/charity project that all contemporary USYers recognize).
Summer Travel for Teens
That same summer, twelve USYers went on the first organization sponsored trip to Israel. Known as the USY Israel Summer Pilgrimage, it became the first of the USY summer programs.
Two years later, Pilgrimage enrollment had already increased to 100 teens. In 1961, USY further expanded its summer programs when two staff members took four USYers on their “Schlep and Pray Across the USA,” the first USY on Wheels trip.
In 1969, the Youth Commission created Kadima, the youth group for middle school and junior high students.
Today USY has 350 local chapters in 16 regions across North America.
USY has three main levels of entry into the organization, the chapter level, the regional level, and the international level. The HaNegev and METNY regions are also split into sub-regions and divisions, respectively.
Chapters, typically run out of local USCJ congregations, provide programming on the local level. This includes social, religious, educational, and community service-based programming. Social programming ranges from lounge and movie nights to pool parties and paintballing. Religious, educational, and community service-based programming include mock-seders, Israel education, and volunteering.
All programming is planned by the Chapter Board with the assistance of a professional advisor. Typically, a given chapter's name is an acronym of the synagogue or city in which the chapter is based followed by the letters "USY". For example, the "Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove is shortened to BJUSY". Chapters are associated with a USCJ-affiliated synagogue.
Regions consist of chapters in the same geographical area. Regions gather for bi-monthly, quarterly, and annual regional events, such as weekend-long kinnusim (conventions) and week-long encampments. There are 16 USY regions.
Larger USY regions are occasionally split into sub-regions or divisions. The sub-regions and divisions act much like regions, overseeing their respective chapters, and holding their own conventions and elections. Currently, there are two regions, HaNegev and METNY, with sub-regions or divisions. HaNegev's sub-regions are each led by a three-person executive board, and METNY's divisions are each led by a six-person executive board. HaNegev's three sub-regions are Arvot (South Florida), Mercaz (North and Central Florida), and Ein Gedi (Florida Panhandle, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Arkansas). METNY's three (previously four) divisions are Emek (Hudson Valley), Sababa (Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn), and Ruach (Long Island).
On the International level, USY holds an International Convention, the largest gathering of Conservative Jewish teens in North America, and runs summer trips across the United States, Canada, Israel, and Europe.
The International Board is composed of the 6-person Executive board and their committees. These boards are elected at the International Convention, which takes place every December, and the members serve for 1 calendar year, unlike chapter and regional boards which are elected in mid to late spring and serve through an academic year.
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USY has produced over 250,000 alumni, many of which have gone on to be doctors, lawyers, rabbis, synagogue presidents, and Jewish educators.
- Norton Schwartz - retired general who served as the 19th Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force
- Michael Oren - member of Knesset, and former Israeli ambassador to the United States
- Bruce Vilanch - comedy writer, songwriter, actor, and six-time Emmy Award-winner
- Bryan Greenberg - television and movie actor, and musician
- Robert Freedman - four-time Tony Award-winning screenwriter and dramatist
- Alexander Gould - movie actor and voice artist
- Danny Siegel - best-selling author, lecturer, poet, Jewish educator, social activist, and founder of the Ziv Tzedakah Fund
- Andy Fickman - film, television, and theatre director
- Michael Levin - fallen lone soldier
- Kadima - the pre-high-school program of USY
- Camp Ramah - a network of Conservative Jewish summer camps across North America and Israel
- Nativ - the post-high-school gap year program operated by USCJ
- United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism - the organization of Conservative Jewish synagogues in North America
- Koach - a now-defunct, college campus organization affiliated with Conservative Judaism
- Conservative Judaism - a leading modern denomination of Judaism
- Judaism - the religion of the Jewish people