The general aim of the United Synagogue Youth program is to bring about a meaningful and fully reciprocal encounter of Judaism, the Jewish people, and the Synagogue on one side, and the Jewish teenager on the other. As a result of this encounter, the Jewish teenager will, firstly, demonstrate and experience how the Jewish way of living, through study, action and fellowship, leads to personal fulfillment and growth while meeting his spiritual and social needs, and secondly, make a significant contribution to his synagogue, community, society and the Jewish people.
- Identity – Young people seek an answer to the question “Who am I?” USY will help young people to find their identity as Jews. To aid in the process of self discovery, USY confronts young people with as much of the Jewish world as will fit into the scope of their experiences. The Torah, the Jewish world, Israel and the community, and all the issues and problems of which they become aware, will serve them as paths to the discovery of themselves.
- Belonging – Not satisfied with merely knowing their identity, young people feel the need to attach themselves to a particular element of their environment, and through this particular attachment, of becoming significant parts of the whole. Membership in USY will give young people the reassuring feeling of belonging to a particular group, their chapters, and through it to identify with their synagogues, their movement, their community, the Jewish people and ultimately with the human society in general. Membership in USY will allow young people to learn and appreciate the mitzvot as an expression of belonging to the Jewish community, and their love for Judaism, the Jewish people, the State of Israel and the synagogue as a necessary part of their commitment to ultimate universal values.
- Learning and Growing – Young people naturally love to learn, and want to grow intellectually and emotionally. USY emphasizes, therefore, the opportunities for learning and growing inherent in the study of Torah. USY encourages the study of Torah in a manner relevant to the particular interests of the young people, to the personal commitments they want to make, to the values which they particularly cherish, and to the contemporary problems which arouse their attention.
- The Spirit (or Ethos) of Youth – Young people want to build and live in a world of their own, with its own spirit and mystique. USY fills this need by encouraging young people to establish their own autonomous democratic society, with full political power vested in its members. The young people conduct their own organizational affairs, from chapter level through a congregational, regional and national structure. The spirit of youthful adventure is further advanced by means of regalia and insignia, conventions, encampments, and many other attributes of democratic power and “espirit de corps”.
- Idealism and Service – Young people seek constructive ways of expressing their enthusiastic idealism through opportunities of serve. USY channels this desire into the fields of social action both within and beyond the Jewish community. It adds a new dimension to social action by exploring its religious significance. The concerns of the Jewish community and the needs of the Jewish people receive proper emphasis. The place of Israel as the supreme expression of contemporary Jewish idealism receives special attention. In general, the social action program of USY tries to convey the basic Jewish belief that God is the source of our ideals and idealism and that in being God’s partner in human society individual Jews can find their most significant personal fulfillment. Special action through USY also serves to reassure them of the potential constructive role and real importance in Jewish and general society.
- Creativity and Self-Expression – Young people want to express themselves creatively. USY offers many opportunities for such self expression through the media of its organization and its needs. It also encourages creative contributions to the Jewish tradition through innovation and experiment in worship and ritual, as well as self expression in the fields of art, literature, music and drama. The fulfillment of the Mitzvot, in an imaginative and inspired manner, is also to be regarded as an opportunity for the expression of the creative Jewish self, while the study of Torah leads to creative contributions to the world of Jewish learning.
- Fun and Fellowship – Prominent among the needs of normal teenagers is the desire for establishing interpersonal relations, friendship and fellowship with their peers. USY affords wholesome and cheerful opportunities for the fulfillment of these social needs within the setting of the chapter and beyond. It also fosters such values as loyalty to the group and individual self denial for the sake of the collective well being which ultimately leads to loyalty to God, Torah, and the Jewish people.
- Total Commitment – Seen as an educative process, the program of USY will progressively lead from exposure to Judaism through the phases and stages indicated above to a full commitment to the principal values of Judaism: Torah, Mitzvot (including G’milut Chasadim/social action), Israel, the Jewish people, and the Synagogue.
Section 3 – To Develop a Strong and Lasting Attachment to the Jewish People and the Land of Israel
Many of the problems that beset North American Jewish Youth can be attributed to our inability to accept our role as a member of Klal Yisrael, and that each Jew is responsible for the future of Judaism. The problem of inter marriage would not be as crucial if North American Jewish youth were more concerned with the survival of their people. USYers should be impressed with the Jewish mystique. The unique aspect of the Jewish tradition embodied in the privileges of membership and its contributions to Jewish civilization must be impressed on the youth of today. This is a difficult idea to propose to liberal thinking American Jewish youth, who will immediately associate chosenness with superiority. But unless they are made to feel that the Jews have a role to fulfill and that group survival is essential, they will not make the necessary effort to accept their responsibility as bulwarks against assimilation. USYers should stand at the forefront of cooperation with other Jewish youth organizations.
Suggested Methods of Implementation:
- Study of Jewish History with emphasis on the question of what made Judaism survive.
- Greater Hebraic emphasis at all USY functions
- To stress the importance of the Ramah Camps as a spearhead for furthering Jewish ideals and knowledge
- An all out effort to have as many youngsters as possible visit Israel through USY auspices
- Importance of oppressed Jewry
- Correspondence with Jewish youngsters in all parts of the world
- USY equivalent of the World Council of Synagogues
- Dissemination of information on opportunities for Aliyah
- Participation in USY Israel Pilgrimage, USY on Wheels, and East European Pilgrimage and encouragement of a year of study in Israel
Section 4– To Develop a Deeper Sense of Loyalty to the Synagogue as the Central Institution of Jewish Life
With increasing mobility of American Jews, these young people may never return to the community of their origin after leaving High School. An essential aim of USY should be to help instill a sense of loyalty to the Jewish community and the synagogue, so that they will seek out the synagogue and feel a sense of responsibility to enrich its program or provide viable alternatives to it when the program militates against self enrichment.
Suggested Methods of Implementation:
To this end, USY should provide our young people with a model, a blueprint of synagogue life as it should be experienced by an exemplary adult congregation.
- Working toward the formation of youth lounges within each synagogue to established the synagogue as the central institution in teenage life.
- Active participation in the youth and/or adult congregation.
- Active participation in the Hebrew School as well as informal study groups.
- The sanctity of the synagogue should be established and the USYers should take action when they see this sanctity desecrated by any members of the Synagogue “family.”
- Executive and membership meetings should be conducted on the highest level, so that the youngsters will come to expect and insist on the same high level of meetings in their own congregations in later years. USY should be engaged in a constant dialogue with synagogue leaders and the congregation in general about the “state of the school,” such dialogue may be established by having USYers and synagogue leaders serve on each others’ committees, sponsoring USY adult debates and forums, organizing joint social action programs, etc.
- As a model of synagogue organization, social action should play an important role in USY.
In this way only will the youngster have a clear idea of what the adult synagogue should be, thus seeking its implementation in later life. The teenage model of synagogue life can conceivably influence the present adult congregation to seek higher standards of involvement. We should not underestimate the possibility of good ideas “trickling upwards.”
Section 5– Mitzvot
The organization should provide the opportunity to experience the Mitzvot both as a group and as individuals, in order to help all our young people make an intelligent choice as to the degree of their personal observance in later years. Shabbat, the Holidays, Prayer, Kashrut, Tzedakah, G’milut Chasadim, amongst others, should be stressed as imperatives derived from our tradition. A sense of those moral and ritual imperatives inherent in Judaism should be fostered. USY views the ethical and ritual areas as leading one to the other in thought and deed.
Suggested Methods of Implementation:
- Sponsoring Shabbat and Holiday services and programs, and encouraging members to take part in them, even if they must absent themselves from Public School classes; and encouraging personal Tefillah by members.
- Developing an appreciation for the essential role of Kashrut in their personal lives, and encouraging both an understanding and an observance of the Dietary Laws at all public functions.
- Encouraging projects which carry out the values embodied in Tzedakah, G’milut Chasadim and other Jewish value concepts.
- Encouraging social action not merely for humanitarian reasons, but also because it is a Jewish imperative. Most of the Jews who participated in marches and rallies for Civil Rights were not religiously motivated, so they said. Many of the Christians, however, claimed that they were performing an act of Christian charity.
- An active program of Social Action designed to translate the theory into reality for group participants.
- Cooperating with existing institutions to give service to the community and neighborhood.
- Participation in tutorial projects.
- Aid to the disabled.
- Participation in civic causes.
Section 6– Study
We consider it a responsibility of each group and individual to confront and internalize our cultural heritage via the study of basic texts, guided discussion and all other effective learning experiences.
The unique and distinctive aspect of our tradition as it relates to other traditions should be stressed. It is the aim of our tradition to motivate towards an understanding that Judaism involves a lifetime of study. We encourage open inquiry, historically oriented on all aspects of the Judaic tradition, using all available resources. The desirability of reading texts in their original language should be stressed.
Suggested Methods of Implementation:
- Encouraging members to attend the Hebrew High School, or the institution of most intensive learning, in their areas.
- Encouraging chapters to establish programs for group study.
- Encouraging the reading of Jewish books and understanding of individual study programs.
- Sponsoring programs where the knowledge gained through study can be usefully applied and implemented in programs and projects.
- Disseminating on a yearly basis to all affiliated chapters a copy of the USY Home Study Program in an effort to encourage the individual USYer to participate in this excellent study endeavor.
Section 7 – To Prepare Youngsters for Positive Jewish Living in College and to Fortify Their Moral and Religious Faith During the Most Crucial Years Away From Home
USY program should center around the many problems with which USYers will be confronted at college. They should be exposed to authentic Jewish views on situation ethics, civil disobedience, protest, politics, inter marriage, pacifism, premarital sex, drugs, etc., so that they will know, and hopefully remember, that there are Jewish responses to current issues. The USYers should be prepared to discuss and articulate in college years some of the unique features of Judaism and its basic stand on important moral issues. This can only be accomplished through a well developed program of informal education with ample opportunity for discussion and debate. Such programs would require intimate involvement by the rabbi of the congregation.
Suggested Method of Implementation:
Developing programs which enable the participants to anticipate the forthcoming years of their adolescent lives on the college campus.