In response to Sam Cohen’s op-ed, “College Dropouts” (July 6), we believe Cohen is absolutely right that engaging Jewish college students is imperative to the Jewish future. And through the Reform movement’s Campaign for Youth Engagement, we have put a stake in the ground when it comes to this very issue.
If trends continue, approximately 80 percent of children who become b’nei mitzvah will have no connection to their synagogues by the time they reach 12th grade. And even fewer will become actively engaged Jews throughout their lives. We must engage young people post-b’nei mitzvah, through high school, college and into their 20s and 30s if we want to ensure the survival of the Jewish community. But we can’t do it alone. Collaboration is essential, and we are working with a variety of organizations that share our goals. One of our most important partners is Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.
We did not sunset the Reform movement’s college program, Kesher, because we thought college engagement was unimportant, but because we determined that Hillel has the most effective infrastructure to reach this vital cohort. In partnership with Hillel, the URJ is engaging Reform interns for Hillel’s Campus Entrepreneur Initiative, which builds relationships with students who are not Jewishly active. URJ interns attend Reform programs and meet monthly with URJ staff to deepen their Jewish knowledge. URJ camp directors also work with Hillel staff by creating camp alumni events and other campus programs. Another partner is The Men of Reform Judaism, who sponsor Reform on Campus (ROC) grants to encourage Reform Jewish campus programming.
And this is just a start. We know there is much more to do, and we do not plan to sit on the sidelines. Through these and other essential partnerships, the Reform movement is focused on our highest priority — engaging the next generation.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs President, Union for Reform Judaism
Lisa Lieberman Barzilai, Co-Director, Expanding Our Reach Community of Practice