Young Judaea, the Zionist youth movement that has been part of Hadassah for more than 40 years, launched this summer as an independent entity in an effort to revitalize itself while allowing Hadassah to focus more of its resources on health care projects.
“Young Judaea has been solely supported by Hadassah since 1967,” said Roni Schwartz, coordinator of the Young Judaea division of Hadassah, and a national vice president of Hadassah. “For some time, there had been some talk and some initiative from Young Judaea to become independent, but Hadassah was not really entertaining that idea at the time. Now, at this moment in time, it’s the right thing to do.”
The “main reason” Hadassah is now ready for Young Judaea to become independent is Hadassah’s current and pressing commitment to complete a new hospital tower in Jerusalem, Schwartz said.
“Hadassah’s centennial is next year,” Schwartz said. “It is focused now on getting the hospital tower completed [by then]. Hadassah needed to focus more singularly on doing that.”
Young Judaea, which aims to sharpen the Jewish and Zionist identity of young people, boasts a national camping system, year-round activities, and various programs in Israel.
While Hadassah will continue to support Young Judaea with start-up financial support for three years, and expects to continue a partnership going forward, Young Judaea is now charged with beginning a fundraising effort to support its new, independent entity.
The new independent entity, currently called Young Judaea Global, has its own founding board, comprised of nine former Young Judaea leaders and Young Judaea supporters, who are volunteering their time to help realize the movement’s independence.
“Young Judaea had been a strong piece of Hadassah,” said Schwartz, who is also serving on the founding board. “We looked for another positive way for Young Judaea to flourish. We have a lot of faith that this will be successful, and will allow Young Judaea to stabilize and grow.”
The founding board is in the process of creating several sub-boards that will examine the different facets of the movement, Schwartz said.
“Decisions will be made along the road,” she said. “We who love Young Judaea are especially proud and appreciative of all the volunteers in Pittsburgh and around the country that have stepped up and kept the movement going at this difficult time.”
It is uncertain how Young Judaea’s independence from Hadassah will affect local chapters, such as Pittsburgh’s, that have been challenged by a lack of national funding for the past two years.
“I’m just trying to do whatever I can do,” said Karen Morris, the Pittsburgh area parent coordinator, who works with a group of parent and high school volunteers to maintain local Young Judaea programming. “It’s a combined effort. For the last two years, the [national] organization has not been there for us on a local level.”
In Pittsburgh, Young Judaea, which has a membership of about 30 youths, mostly from Squirrel Hill and the South Hills, has relied on the efforts from volunteers since its local paid position of director was eliminated a few years ago. A local college student, Mo Goldberg, ran the program as a volunteer, but stopped about a year ago because of time constraints.
“We still have kids that go to Young Judaea summer camp, and to conventions,” Morris said, “but we haven’t had a local Shabbaton for one and half years.”
“Locally, we’re continuing on doing the best we can with parents, and high school kids planning programs. Our focus is on using kids in high school that have gone to camp and on Israel programs to plan the events. We are continuing the peer leadership model, and continuing the status quo until we get more direction coming out of national Young Judaea,” she continued.
Jordan Schaer, a senior at Mt. Lebanon High School, helps plan programs for Young Judaeans both locally, and throughout the Midwest Region. He is passionate about the movement.
“Young Judaea has a really special connection to Israel,” he said. “It’s the only Zionist youth organization in North America. It used to be very pro-aliya, but is now more focused on training kids to be Israel advocates in America in response to rising anti-Israel sentiments on college campuses.”
Schaer, who will be in New York City this weekend for the movement’s national convention, believes Young Judaea’s independence from Hadassah will have little impact on the Pittsburgh chapter, other than the absence of the word “Hadassah” on their T-shirts.
“The future is really bright for Young Judaea locally,” he said. “We have a really strong group of eighth- and ninth- graders. With some guidance, I know that Young Judaea is going to be in great hands.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)