Over 900 Jewish high school students from across North America will gather in Philadelphia December 25-29 for United Synagogue Youth’s annual international convention. The convention, the largest annual gathering of Jewish young people, wraps up a year of events marking USY’s 60th anniversary, and will include an attempt – expected to be successful – to achieve the official world record for the most dreidels spun simultaneously in the same room; remarks by Gen. Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, the highest ranking Jewish member of the U.S. military; and student participation in community service work in Philadelphia.
United Synagogue’s organization for middle and high school students was established in 1951, and since then it has given Jewish teenagers the opportunity to come together to celebrate and learn about Judaism, develop a sense of Jewish identity, acquire leadership skills, and build lifelong friendships. It has become one of the largest and most active Jewish youth groups in the world.
“Part of our objective is to teach the Jewish values of g’milut hasadim (performing acts of loving-kindness for others) and tikkun olam, which is, literally, repairing the world,” said Karen Stein, USY Convention Director. “We make a positive impact on the surrounding community while teaching our youth the importance of helping others, regardless of faith or race. It’s amazing how the positive energy generated by students’ experiences at Convention can have an impact for months afterward. USYers return to their regions and chapters full of new ideas that give a real boost to the level of programming and involvement in USY.”
This year’s convention will feature volunteer opportunities for participants in community projects all over Philadelphia, including:
· Stuffing stuffed animals for children in Israeli hospitals
· Creating greetings to accompany Passover baskets to be sent to families in need
· Learning to become a mitzvah clown for healing and laughter projects
· Advocating for Israel
· Engaging in sensitivity training on disabilities and Judaism
· Collecting food for donation
· Spending time with senior citizens
· Supporting United Synagogue’s lone soldier program for non-Israeli soldiers serving in Israel’s armed forces
· Collecting blankets for hospitalized children
· Participating in the Israel Guide Dog Center program which trains seeing eye dogs
· Bringing at-risk teenagers together in intercultural dialogue through the Camden Love/Hate program
As students come together to share in the traditions of Chanukah, they will endeavor to achieve the official world record for the most dreidels spun simultaneously in the same room. The current record of 618 was set by Yeshiva University students last year.
“USY provides a positive forum for social, educational and religious programming for thousands of teens,” said Jules Gutin, USY Director. “The annual USY International Convention allows hundreds of teenagers to come together with staff to share experiences and learn from each other in an environment that celebrates the best of Conservative Judaism – community, social action, learning, and, of course, fun.”
The students who attend also will enjoy:
· Reunions with fellow summer program and camp participants
· Celebration of a special musical tribute to USY’s 60th anniversary
· Developing new friendships across the continent
· Leadership training
· Creative and inspiring prayer experiences
· The election and installation of new international board officers
· An address to students by Gen. Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, and the highest ranking Jewish member of the U.S. military
Sixty years after its founding, USY, and Kadima, its program for middle school students, continue to play a significant role in shaping the lives of young Conservative Jews and future Jewish leaders. Tens of thousands of young people have been USY members, and USY alumni have risen to significant leadership roles, serving in the United States Congress, as CEOs of major corporations, and as presidents of influential Jewish organizations and prominent universities.
“USYers come to the International Convention because it is a tremendous opportunity to see old friends and make new ones from all across North America,” said Daniel (DJ) Kaplan of Orange, Ohio, 2011 USY International President. “Convention is a great place to exchange ideas – there is a good chance that what works in one place can help another USY chapter’s program somewhere else.”