United Synagogue Youth and Kadima, of The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, inspires Jewish youth to explore, celebrate and practice ethical values, Jewish Living, Zionism and community responsibility based on the ideology of the Conservative Movement.
What is USY?
What is USY? The answer starts with an organization called the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. United Synagogue is the umbrella organization of Conservative synagogues in North America. It services the overall needs of its affiliated congregations. United Synagogue Youth (USY) and Kadima are the official youth organizations of the Conservative Movement and are sponsored by the United Conservative Youth group and that USY chapters exist only in congregations that are affiliated with United Synagogue. To be in USY is to strive to learn about and live within the framework of Conservative Judaism.
USY was founded in 1951 and has grown from a handful of chapters to an international organization with thousands of high school age members. In 1964, Kadima was formalized as a separate entity for pre-USY age young people. USY was conceived as a means of meeting the social, educational, religious, and recreational needs of our youth people. USY seeks to involve our youth in synagogue life and help build the Jewish community of the future. Furthermore, USY is a Zionist organization, trying to build a relationship between Israel and our members here in America. Today, USY is still working toward these same goals. One measure of our success is that we have begun to produce our own leaders, as many advisors, youth workers, Rabbis, synagogue presidents, etc. are themselves former USYers.
USY begins on the chapter level where we recruit our members, train our leaders, and service our synagogues. The next level is the regional level. The regions have a variety of activities to bring together members and leaders from the chapters. The third level is the international level. The international USY offices are located in the United Synagogue building in New York City. The programs it coordinates include International Convention, USY on Wheels, Israel Pilgrimage, Nativ, Tikkun Olam, Chalutzim, 613 Mitzvah Club, Abraham Joshua Heschel Honor Society, and the Program Bank.
Some USY History
It is 1948 and the state of Israel has been established. The American Jewish community, however, was not in a healthy condition. What Jewish youth organizations existed in the United States were both very secular in nature or Zionist-oriented and entirely dependent on the existence and future of Israel for the continuation of Jewish identity.
One hundred and fifty young people from Omaha, Lincoln, Kansas City, St. Paul, and Minneapolis meet in the Temple of Aaron in St Paul, Minnesota in April to discuss “The Synagogue and the Teenager.” At the end of their sessions, they vote to form a permanent Midwest Region Youth Conference and to hold semi-annual meetings.
“ The Youth Commission unanimously agrees that the teenage groups come under the general supervision of the Youth Commission. Teenage groups should include boys and girls of high school level; 13 to 17 years inclusive, The Youth Commission shall concern itself with non-scholastic group work for teenagers. ”
When these words appeared in the Youth Commission’s Report, given on March 19, 1951, United Synagogue Youth was born. The Charter meeting of the new Youth group was held in December of that same year. High school aged delegates met at sites at both Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Delegates from Synagogues and other youth groups across the country attended the United Synagogue Convention. It totaled over 500 people, representing 65 different communities in 14 different states and Canada attended the first official meeting of USYers. At that convention, under the leadership of the newly elected National President, highschooler Paul Freedman, the two basic documents of the organization, Aims and Objectives and the USY Constitution were adopted.
The organization has changed over the years. In late 1951, three more regions were added to USY, making a total of 17 regions (see the map of the regions). In 1956, the Two-o-Nine tzedakah (Charity) project began. It was revamped in 1971, becoming Tikun Olam, the social action/charity project that all contemporary USYers recognize. That same summer twelve USYers went on the first organization sponsored trip to Israel. Known as the USY Israel Summer Pilgrimage, it became the first of the USY summer programs. Two years later, in 1958 Pilgrimage enrolment was up to about 100. In 1961, USY further expanded its summer programs when two staff members took fort USYers on their "Schlep and Pray Across the USA" on the first USY on Wheels trip. In 1969, the Youth Commission increased its informal educational scope in creating Kadima, the youth group geared towards middle school and junior high students. The summer programs have greatly expanded over the years.
Today there are seven Wheels Buses, including USY on Wheels Mission: Mitzvah, a special bus whose members engage in the regular Wheels sightseeing and work on intense social action projects in various communities throughout North America. The Pilgrimage program, now offers eight different programs, sending USYers across the globe. Pilgrimage groups still go to Israel, but they also visit Spain, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
Today’s USY is far larger and even more successful. Fifty-two Conventions later, USY, now an international organization in its own right has ties to NOAM, the Masorti youth group in both Britain and Israel. USYers can now spend part of their High School Careers at USY High, in Israel. The NATIV Israel Leadership training program also provides an educational year in Israel between high school and college for USY graduates.
Structure of USY
The growth and development of USY has led to a hierarchical structure of the organization.
At the top of the pyramid is the International level, which is a assembly of the many different Regions throughout the United States and Canada. At this level are the International Director, professional staff, and International USY Officers. The officers are elected annually for a term of 12 months at the International USY Convention.
The second level is the Region. A Region is formed when the chapters in a specific geographical area combine, usually in conjunction with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism region. The typical Region has a Regional Director, professional staff, and Regional USY Officers. These officers are also elected for a term of 12 months at an annual Regional Convention. There are currently 17 regions covering the United States and Canada.
The primary level is the chapter. The chapter is youth group at an individual synagogue, which is affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Each chapter may or may not have a body of professional staff or a chapter board of officers.