Local leaders and professionals associated with Young Judaea welcomed an announcement by Hadassah that it will launch the youth movement as an independent organization, effective this fall.
The move was announced June 14 by Hadassah’s leadership, who said the goal was to revitalize the movement and reach out to new partners and supporters in the Jewish world.
Supporters of the move say it could enable the group to return to its grassroots base, create more year-round programs, and boost reliance on peer leaders and adult volunteers.
“Hadassah has been trying for a couple of years to figure out the best course for Young Judaea,” said Betsy Gold, a Hillsdale resident and longtime supporter of and participant in Young Judaea. “The decision that Young Judaea should be independent gives it the power to reach its full potential. Both sides are really excited.”
Gold is among a group of former Young Judaea leaders and supporters and Hadassah leaders who will serve on a founding board of the newly independent organization.
Among its first tasks will be hiring an executive director, according to Gold. The organization has been functioning without a national director since January 2010, when Rabbi Ramie Arian stepped down and was not replaced.
“We will expand the board, bringing in people with all types of skill sets and educational backgrounds,” said Gold, “not just alumni but Jewish communal leaders and important thinkers who can help the executive director and staff as they consider what programs we should add, change, revise in order to engage youth in more impactful ways.”
All current programs will continue without any changes, according to Gold, including Machon, the five-week summer program in Israel; Year Course in Israel; and the organization’s summer camps around the country.
Two Young Judaea camps in New York state, Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake, for children in grades two-eight, and Camp Tel Yehudah, the national teen leadership camp, are among the seven camps that have formal partnerships with United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, and they attract large numbers of local residents.
Young Judaea programs also include Alternative Winter Break; Taglit-Birthright Israel trips; the WUJS Israel post-college program; and Amirim, an Israel program for college students and young professionals.
Hadassah will continue to provide financial support, have board representation, and work collaboratively with the 102-year-old movement. Hadassah began subsidizing the youth organization in 1936 and became its sole sponsor in 1967.
Incoming mazkira, or national president, Yael David, a rising senior at Livingston High School, was blindsided by the announcement.
“I’d say it was a little surprising. I found out when the press did,” she told NJJN from Newark airport, where she was awaiting a flight to Israel to participate in Machon. “But I think this is something great — it will be a great new chapter, and we will still lead the same way.”
With the information released just a short time before the start of camp, Tel Yehudah director David Weinstein could not be reached.
Helene Drobenare, director of Sprout Lake, welcomed the change and said it would have little impact this summer, but would reap potential benefits over the long term.
“This is about a mother bird letting her child fly,” she said. “It has tremendous potential for the rebirth of the movement.”
She pointed out that with no denominational or synagogue affiliation, it can be difficult recruiting kids. Working outside a large institution like Hadassah, she thinks Young Judaea can become more nimble and responsive.
“Without fighting the bureaucracy of a big system, we can begin to dream,” she said.
Because the camp is financially self-sufficient, there will be no significant financial impact, she said.
In recent years, Hadassah’s financial woes have forced the organization to focus on its core mission. The organization has suffered not only from the results of being heavily invested with convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, but also from declining memberships and aging supporters.
In its announcement, Hadassah national president Nancy Falchuk acknowledged that her organization would “increases its focus on health care and other issues.”
“It’s going to be very exciting,” said Gold, “to take a good look at a vibrant youth movement and ask how we can reach more people, what is important to today’s youth and how we can engage them in Israel.”