Jason Kramer is a senior in high school, a Kutz and Camp Harlam alumnus, out youth group president and an amazing teen leader. Recently he attended the URJ biennial with me and our Congregation Beth Emeth delegation. He shared this blog post on his experience.
I am a two time URJ Kutz Camp Alumni, President of my Temple Youth Group, BESTY, and have been to every single regional and North American NFTY made available to me. My entire focus at the time circulated around the youth. Engage the youth, get the youth to go to youth group events, get the youth to go to regional events, youth, youth, youth, youth. Although it was slightly overwhelming, I have never regretted any of this because I have been influenced tremendously by them. It is not because of the youth, though, that I was convinced to go to the URJ Biennial. It was because I was going to be treated as an equal.
The URJ Biennial is the most exciting five days in the reform Jewish movement. Over five thousand people came to Orlando, Florida to learn, pray, and interact with each other. Biennial is NOT a NFTY event. It is not planned by a regional board and it is not dominated by teens. We, the youth, made up about five percent of the participants at Biennial. While these all seem like put offs, these reasons are what made it so great.
Biennial had been a prevailing thought in my head since last may, when I was asked by my regional President if I would be attending. I had heard of it before and had looked into it enough to know that I would not financially be able to go, but not enough to read into what happened there. What I hadn’t realized was that the entire platform of the URJ was: Moving the Youth Forward. Literally, all of Biennial would be about ways to help the youth and increase our involvement in the URJ, not just NFTY. At the time though, I had a lot of other things on my mind and Biennial fell into the back of my head.
As the big week(end) grew closer, I started to hear questions from my friends. Would I go? Would I be there? I can’t wait to see you at Biennial! I began to do more research again. While looking for more information that might be able to convince my mom, I discovered there would be no NFTY track. There was no immediate focus on the youth (or so I thought). I knew Biennial was traditionally for adults, but in the past there had been a section for teens. Why they changed it this year was perplexing to me, but I accepted it and hoped that adults would see me as an equal not a subordinate because of my age.
During BESTY’s first youth group board meeting of the year, I started talking to my Rabbi about Biennial. Right then and there he made everything clear. Biennial this year had no aim at the teens because the Biennial Committee wanted us, the teens, to be more engaged with the greater community. No longer were we to be isolated from the adults who could learn from a new generation, and we to learn from their life experience. No longer would we truly be treated like teens, but like adults who had something valuable to offer.
This is why I ended up going to Biennial. Because as a teen, I had the same opportunities as everyone else to learn, talk, and be a part of something bigger than NFTY. I was a part of the URJ.