A midrash (a story that elaborates on the Torah) says that when the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds (Exodus 14), the sea split into 12 different openings so that each tribe could travel within its own distinct, designated path. Yet every Israelite reached the same place.
The message is that while our distinctions make us unique, ultimately we’re united as Jews.
The recently formed Milwaukee Jewish Youth Council is attempting to actualize that message. It strives to maintain the integrity of pre-existing area youth groups while fostering togetherness.
The MJYC convenes four area youth groups. Its aim is to promote working together and communication amongst them.
Participating are BBYO, a non-denominational pluralistic movement; North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), Reform; United Synagogue Youth (USY), Conservative; and the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), Orthodox Union.
Rachael Badt is MJYC co-creator and BBYO Wisconsin regional director. “For years, I thought how great it would be if we could all sit down, all get along, and talk about ideas,” Badt said.
She said that in the past, differences between groups sometimes led to animosity. The MJYC is working to eliminate this.
She shared her thoughts with Rabbi Noah Chertkoff, associate rabbi at Congregation Shalom. Chertkoff helped to assemble the area youth group directors, all of whom were thrilled by the initiative.
Enthusiasm did not stop with the directors. “The directors went back to their teens and the teens thought it was great and they hit the ground running,” said Badt. “The teens even started writing the by-laws at the very first meeting in January.” The by-laws were officially signed at a meeting on June 10.
Although the MJYC has only existed for less than half a year, it has already experienced successes, especially in three activities:
• J-Serve, an international Jewish teen day of service.
• A teen Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) program, in collaboration with the Nathan & Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
• The Walk for Israel that takes place during the community celebration of Israel Independence Day.
Badt said that in past Walks for Israel, area teens would have to choose under which banner to follow, synagogue or youth group.
The teens wondered, “Why do we need to walk under different banners? Why don’t we all walk together as Jewish teens?” said Badt. That is what they did, with logos of all area youth groups on one banner.
The Walk for Israel was a microcosm of what MJYC is trying to accomplish globally.
Molly Kazan, past BBYO president, wrote that “having one strong united voice rather than four separate ones sends a strong message to the community that we’re all in this together. So often in our youth groups we forget that there are Jewish teens in other groups, and that our voice, although strong individually, is much, much louder as a whole.”
Rebecca Perl, past USY president, said, “I believe that the voice of the Jewish youth in Milwaukee is not as strong as it could be, but by coming together we can make sure our voices are heard when planning and taking part in community wide events.”
“What I think is really important about the initiative,” said Chertkoff, “is that the teens are the ones who are taking an active role in determining the future of Jewish youth in Milwaukee.
“The most exciting aspect of the MJYC is that our youth can now coordinate an active role in the Jewish framework of Milwaukee. For example, it allows our kids to not only march in the Walk for Israel, but now they can take an active role in helping plan it. I’m very excited about the potential.”
“We are hoping to further extend the MJYC to every youth group in our area,” Kazan wrote. “It is our hope that [the council] will continue to grow and inspire other communities to create a similar goal.”
To get involved, contact the directors or advisors of BBYO, USY, NFTY and NCSY.
Joshua Becker is a Spanish teacher for Shorewood Public Schools and a freelance writer.
The photo above shows the youth group leaders who signed the bylaws of the new Milwaukee Jewish Youth Council. They are: Back row from left: Hiller Miller, current BBYO regional president; Molly Kazan, past BBYO regional president; Rebecca Lubar, NFTY-NO regional president; Jessica Perl, MUSY president; Rebecca Perl, past MUSY president. Middle row: Sydney Wasserman, current SHFTY president; Carly Cohen, past SHFTY president; Aaron Glazer, current BBYO regional president. Front row: Ryan Brink, past BBYO regional president; and Mikah Semon, NSCY-Midwest president. Photo taken at the BBYO offices by Geri Berg.