Our Summer Youth Programs Up Close

Greetings. My name is David Levy and I am the new Director of Teen Learning here at USCJ.  My first order of business was to visit with our USY Israel Pilgrimage and USY on Wheels groups.

It was inspiring to see all of the USYers in Israel, Los Angeles and Washington, DC.  The smiles on their faces said it all.  Weeks of sightseeing, hiking, exploring, learning and more had given them the glow of teens having a great time with their new closest friends.  It was also wonderful to see our incredible USY staff in action. Our teens were getting the best care possible, and we are lucky to have such inspiring role models working with them. I am also grateful to our incredible USY Pilgrimage and USY on Wheels offices for their work coordinating this outstanding program.

Rabbi Dave Levy with USY Israel Pilgrimage Group 8 on their first day in Israel

I had the chance to meet and greet all of our groups on Israel Pilgrimage, including our Eastern European Pilgrims on their first day in Israel.  I visited with L’takeyn Olam, our service-oriented group, as they worked on a farming project, and I visited the Latrun Tank Museum with one of the Poland Seminar groups as well as Israel Adventure.  In the U.S., I  was able to meet all of our “Classic Wheels” groups as well as the younger teens on Wheels East. I met up with our classic buses in Los Angeles, where we had a blast at Disney, Universal and at the Santa Monica Pier.  I visited Wheels East in Washington, D.C., where I caught up with the group the morning after a great Shabbat and nighttime tour of the D.C. monuments.

It was especially meaningful to have the opportunity to sit and study Torah with some of our groups.  We explored the imperative presented by Moses to the Israelites to guard their memories of the journey in the desert. Our USYers are on a journey this summer as well, and we studied sources on the power of bringing these memories home to family and friends. The comments and insights from the USYers were beautiful and at times even opened my eyes to unanticipated lessons in the text.

It was lovely to get to pray with so many of the USYers. I was on hand to see “tefilah goals” met.  This is when the USYers set a goal for a service they wish to learn to lead. The sense of accomplishment on the part of the leader and celebration from the group was inspiring.

One of the highlights of my visit came on Thursday, July 12.  It was a day for gatherings, and we had two incredible events. First, we had a historic  gathering of all the USY Israel Pilgrimage groups and all Ramah Seminar groups for a first-ever joint activity at Neot Kdumim. The idea was initiated last year by Rabbi Steve Wernick, the CEO of USCJ, with full cooperation of Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, the director of the National Ramah Commission. The joint groups celebrated with an educational tour, dance and music.  It was amazing to see the combined strength of our Conservative teens in Israel.

Later in the day we went to USY Pilgrimage’s annual event, aptly named “HaEvent.”  We saw hundreds of USYers cheering and competing, each group in a different colored shirt. For some it was the first opportunity to see USY friends in other groups. Their creativity was evident during the final competition, where each group performed an original song and cheer. Although three groups that earned the most points, each one was clearly proud of their teamwork and efforts. It was a wonderful way to end my visit. Click here to enjoy a special video presentation and get a taste of the excitement of the day!

Visiting Wheels, I was reminded of what a unique program we offer, where our USYers not only have a great time seeing the country, but learn a great deal as well. This happens in the area of Jewish living, where our USYers learn that Jewish living can happen wherever they find themselves. And it happens in the area of personal maturation. Many of the USYers mentioned to me the powerful sense of personal responsibility they were developing, and how much they had learned about living and getting along with others.

We have just wrapped up what has been an incredible summer for USY.  I look forward to discussing the exciting work of the Teen Learning department in future Leadership Updates.

Rabbi David Levy, Director of Teen Learning


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