SAMSUNG CSCBy Rabbi Yehoshua Kohl

Regional Director, NY NCSY

Much ink has been used, over the past several years, on the topic of Jewish teens and young adults, and their place in the future of Jewish community in America. Their lack of engagement in Jewish organizations and increasing distance from Jewish identity has raised the clarion call about who will lead the Jewish community of the next generation. Can these teens, endlessly hooked on Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, and other assorted and sundry addictions, really become tomorrow’s leaders? Do they have the creative, innovative, and organizational skills to fill the shoes of those who created Birthright and other such legendary initiatives?

But after spending much of March 19, 2014 in a Manhattan office boardroom with 35 Jewish teens from around the United States, I have no such concern. I have seen the Jewish future in the eyes, hearts, and minds of these young people and I’m excited.

These 35 budding young Jewish leaders represented the five finalist teams in New York NCSY’s JUMP Leadership Competition. JUMP (Jewish Unity Mentoring Program) is a national program, run by New York NCSY’s chief operating officer Carol Rhine, which offers teens skills-training, along with the opportunity to demonstrate on-the-ground leadership by creating projects and programs in their schools and communities.

The program began in the fall, when 20 teams from around the country came together for a jam packed two-day conference that focused on practical skills needed for leadership and project management, as well as introducing the JUMP Challenges–five topic areas they would address in the projects they created. This year’s challenges were fundraising, Israel activism, Holocaust remembrance, anti-bullying, and charity. After a final session that provided them an opportunity to collect ideas and share them throughout the JUMP community, the teams, gathered from cities around the country, and returned home inspired, focused (if not a little tired), and super-charged to begin their projects.

Over the course of the next five months, the teams worked tirelessly in creating, planning, and executing their challenges through a wide variety of unique and innovative programs. By the beginning of March, executive summaries of each team’s accomplishments had been submitted, and the challenging task of selecting finalist teams began. It was a difficult, yet rewarding task choosing what was truly “The Best of the Best.” Finally, the points were tallied and the selections were made. The finalist teams, Columbus Torah Academy, Ohio; Kohelet Yeshiva HS, Philadelphia; RASG of Miami Beach, Florida; SKA, Lawrence NY, and Seattle NCSY, WA, were notified and they made their travel plans to descend on the Big Apple for the JUMP finale. On March 19, they gathered in one of the boardrooms at Weil, Gotshal, and Manges, graciously provided by Phillip Rosen, a corporate partner as well as head judge and one of the original supporters of the JUMP program.

In addition to Mr. Rosen, the judging panel also included Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union (the parent organization of NCSY); Allen Fagin, chair of the NCSY Youth Commission; and Rebecca Sugar, director of the Birthright Alumni Community of New York. They were also joined by Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week, who had initially planned to attend only to speak to the teens, but was so inspired by their presentations that he cleared his schedule to enable him to stay through the entire program.

Before announcing the RASG Miami team as this year’s champions, in addition to special mention to Seattle NCSY as well, Mr. Rosen stated, “It’s a real pleasure and thrill watching Jewish leaders emerge and grow. These young people really care about the Jewish people–what a beautiful thing! Each year the teams and projects get better and better.” Everyone present was awestruck at not only the creativity displayed by each team in the projects they created, but also at the organizational skills, fundraising ability, project management, and attention to detail that were necessary in bringing their ideas to fruition. In reflecting back on JUMP 2014, Carol Rhine observed, “I believe the true goal of JUMP was realized. The students are walking away from this experience not only with confidence in themselves and their abilities, but with the knowledge that being a leader and serving the Jewish people is a job that can be filled with joy and reward.”

A more comprehensive presentation of the scope of projects is being planned, but a sampling of them is contained below. If there was any disagreement between the teams as to which of them should take home the JUMP 2014 trophy, one thing they, as well as everyone involved in the project, all agreed upon, that every one of them were winners. They won in the skills they developed, in addition to the memories they created through their accomplishments this year.

Mr. Fagin, who also spoke at the JUMP conference in the fall, echoed Mr. Rosen’s sentiments, “What an extraordinary day! It never ceases to amaze me that so much talent, energy, enthusiasm and creativity can be assembled in one room. The future of the Jewish people is in very good hands, and it is being molded and nurtured by the best of the best. . . . NCSY has, once again, made us all very proud.”

From my perspective, the real winners are the Jews of the next generation. They will be the beneficiaries of leaders that these young people are well on the way to becoming. They are the future–and there’s a lot to JUMP about!

For more information about NCSY JUMP, please call 516-569-6279 or e-mail v


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