In the summer of 1994, I set out for North America with my wife and two children as a shaliach (emissary) to the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), the North American branch of the Reform youth movement. My service in the U.S. was cut short due to my wife Tikva’s cancer diagnosis, but I returned to Israel after two years to become the Executive Director of Netzer Olami, the global Reform youth movement. Over the course of the next twenty years, the growth of Netzer Olami and Tamar can be attributed to insight, inspiration and opportunity – all of which I am greatly honored to have championed and contributed to.
When I first started at Netzer Olami in 1996, the small, new youth movement operated in three countries – Australia, South Africa and Britain – and it was just starting in Argentina. By then, the Iron Curtain had fallen and borders to the Former Soviet Union (FSU) were opened, and key rabbis and educators in the Reform movement started to plant the seeds of Jewish pluralism and growth throughout the region. I joined their efforts, focusing on engaging children, youth and young adults, and pitching our activities as a means towards securing our Jewish future. Our programs across the region – from Russia to Belarus to Ukraine – grew to include summer camps, after-school activities, and educational programs at community centers; in turn, communities grew as families followed the interests of their children. Today, twenty years later, Netzer and Tamar are the strongest Zionist youth and young adult platforms for youth engagement in the FSU and Eastern Europe – second only to Habad in reaching out to strengthen Jewish identity and communities there.
Tamar, the World Union’s young adult engagement platform, was founded in response to the lack of activities and mentors for young adults, ages 20 to 35. Meaning, as members grew up through Netzer programs, we recognized that following their participation in Shnat Netzer, or even going off to university, there was no framework to engage them anymore. Tarar supports young adults as they chart their adult lives, and ensures that they’re making Jewish choices and choosing to lead Jewish lives. Today, we celebrate twenty years of Tarar’s growth, with 60 young people from all over the globe who have come to Israel to honor Tamar worldwide and network with you during CONNECTIONS 2017.
Netzer and Tamar representatives from Germany are a product of our focusing on growing Reform Judaism among the next generation since the 1990s. Today, Netzer Germany operates in cities across the country as the main Jewish youth movement.
New branches (sniffim) of Netzer have started in Holland, Spain, France, Israel, Panama and China over the years. Netzer also moved to join forces with NFTY, something I advocated for strongly, at its national convention in 2005.
Looking back on my twenty years with Netzer, I have no doubt that we took important risks and achieved great heights. And I am proud of all we have done. Yet, as we say in Hebrew,
לא עליך המלאכה לגמור, ואין אתה רשאי לבטל ממנה
Lo Alecha Hamalacha Ligmor, V’Ein Ata Rashai L’Vatel Mimena
As much as was done – there is so much more to do!
Today, our meaningful and vibrant global youth and young adult movements are well received and respected by major Jewish organizations, and the council for Israeli youth movements. The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), recognizing the importance of youth and young adult engagement, continues to dedicate resources to our growth and impact. From our devoted staff in Jerusalem to Netzer volunteers, staff, shlichim, counselors and campers, and Tamar leaders and volunteers, I want to thank each and every one of you for this wonderful opportunity that was given to me. I wish you all even greater successes in the future.