A hundred years is a long time for any organization. But imagine a group that, after a century, still has to justify the word “young” in its name. That’s just the challenge that faces Young Judaea—and it is fully meeting the challenge.
There are many stories to explain the success of Hadassah’s youth movement, and some of them appear in the articles that begin on page 24. One iconic experience is that of 19-year-old Tamar Blum of Boston, who recently completed Young Judaea’s Year Course, a travel-study-volunteer program in Israel between high school graduation and college. During her year in Israel, Blum volunteered as a tutor in a residential school near Haifa. One of the children she met there was a 12-year-old boy from an Ethiopian family whose parents couldn’t afford to give him a bar mitzva.
Blum contacted family and friends back home, asking them to send small donations. In the end, the boy, Orko Abby, had his bar mitzva service and party, inviting his classmates and soccer teammates. One surprise visitor was the captain of Hapoel Haifa, Orko’s favorite professional soccer team.
Young Judaea aims to build Jewish identities, create a connection between American Jewish youngsters and Israel and also teach them tikkun olam. As touching as Blum’s story is, it is hardly unique. From Young Judaeans who have volunteered in Israel during good times and bad to the group that put together a convoy of relief supplies to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Young Judaea is a laboratory for ethical Judaism.
Once upon a time, growing up in a Jewish family provided a strong probability that kids would maintain a Jewish identity. There is nothing near certainty today, but Young Judaea is the closest thing there is to an insurance policy on continuity. For holding back the tide of assimilation and producing Jewish leaders for tomorrow, it fully deserves, after 100 years, its youthful name. —Alan M. Tigay