For a long time now we’ve been hearing the phrase “the shrinking of the Conservative movement.” We know there are problems, but as recent high school graduates who are “the future of Conservative Judaism,” we’re ready to do something about them. And we’ll start at the upcoming USY International Convention in New Orleans, or, as we like to call it, IC NOLA (#icnola).
Having graduated from high school this past June, we fondly recall our seven years as part of United Synagogue Youth and Kadima. As leaders in the organization, our lives were enriched and our connection to Judaism was strengthened by the power of USY. We have been to several international conventions and have experienced the energy of being among the 1,000 members of the youth group who each year make up the largest gathering of the Conservative movement.
From the ruach of our tefillot, to being inspired to run for leadership positions, to creating lifelong connections with Jewish teens across North America, IC is amazing. But we think it’s not something that only we USYers should be excited about — it is something Conservative Jews should be excited about. It is what this movement needs.
In this, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s centennial year, it is time to take a look not only at the flaws of the movement but at its future: the youth, who for five days over winter break will be rejoicing in New Orleans. In fact, the theme of our conference is “Rebuild and Rejoice.”
We see IC as the start of the next 100 years of Conservative Judaism and this convention as laying the foundation for how this century will look both from within and to those peeking in from the outside. We’re very cognizant of the foggy future before us and our movement. Whether our numbers, practices, or traditions will change is unclear. But at IC we have the opportunity to ensure that one thing remains constant: a pride in and love for Judaism. We promise that 1,000 USYers will return to their respective communities, both Jewish and secular, reinvigorated and ready to represent what we stand for. Moreover, when they move on to college campuses, they will bring the energy they felt at #icnola to create a kehilla filled with this same passion and love for Judaism.
For five days this December, we will rebuild — both a city still struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and an organization that after 62 years is only just beginning to share its magic with the world.
As we get ready to head to New Orleans, we’re thinking jambalaya and gumbo (the kosher versions, of course). We’re thinking jazz, Creole, and Adon Olam to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” We’re thinking purple, green, and gold and 1,000 excited teenagers dancing in the French Quarter. We’re thinking an entire day of community service and getting our hands dirty helping to repair the city of New Orleans.
We hope that as you look at the challenges facing Conservative Judaism, you’ll think of us in New Orleans, support USY, and see the very real strength and potential we offer the community in the years ahead.