The Dec. 25 issue of NJJN reported that members of the international executive board of United Synagogue Youth were scheduled to vote at their annual international convention on whether to amend requirements requiring the teen organization’s board members to be Shabbat observant and date only fellow Jews (“USYers debate rules on Shabbat, dating”). Since then, the JTA reported on USY’s International Leadership convention in Atlanta under a headline that read: “USY drops ban on interdating.” Facebook discussions lamented, “Another nail in the coffin of Conservative Judaism.”
The facts are not in harmony with this alleged tale of Conservative Jewish woe. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism issued a rebuttal: “You may have recently read a headline in the Jewish press about USY standards. Those headlines are incorrect. We want to make sure that we set the record straight about our USYers’ discussion and decisions regarding their leadership standards…. Let us be clear: USY continues to affirm the value and practice that those in leadership positions should date Jews. The change in language…represents the teens’ desire to state this standard in a more positive, welcoming and non-judgmental way. In no way is this language to be understood otherwise.”
The Rabbinical Assembly amplified this clarification: “USY teens at their International Convention reaffirmed their commitment to indating, while restating that commitment in their own positive language. The change was from: ‘It is expected that leaders of the organization will refrain from relationships which can be construed as interdating’ to ‘The Officers will strive to model healthy Jewish dating choices. These include recognizing the importance of dating within the Jewish community.’”
The change reflected a separate effort: to make children of the intermarried feel welcome as USY members by “treating each person,” including the non-Jewish parents of some USY members, “with the recognition that they were created betzelem Elohim (in the image of God).” The RA statement concluded: “USY leadership and USCJ senior leaders including Rabbi Steve Wernick clearly reaffirmed our Movement’s values and expectations regarding Jewish dating and the continued expectation that leaders in our youth movement will date Jews.”
The “real story” emanating from Atlanta is that 750 young people spent a week together in prayer, sacred study, and acts of loving-kindness. We should be inspired that they are preparing to be leaders among 10,000 USYers, in Conservative Judaism, and in the general Jewish community. The real story includes their affirmation of leadership standards of “Shabbat and kashrut, and participation in regular Jewish study and synagogue services.” The “real story” is that 10,000 USYers are joined world-wide by growing NOAM youth movements in Israel, Europe, and Latin America, comprising an additional 10,000 members. The real story is the vitality and future potential of the global Conservative/Masorti movement demonstrated by these engaged youngsters.
Rabbi Alan Silverstein
Congregation Agudath Israel