New URJ/Keshet Partnership Will Lead to More Inclusive Youth Spaces

By Toby Singer and Rachael Brill

“When we don’t have the full participation of our community, we are diminished,” says Lisa David, director of URJ Camp Harlam.

Keshet, a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life, is partnering with the Union for Reform Judaism, bringing together its URJ Youth and Audacious Hospitality departments for a project to improve inclusivity in our Reform youth programs. It is the largest implementation yet of Keshet’s work.

This year-long initiative, the URJ-Keshet Youth Leadership Project, follows the successful rubric of previous Keshet efforts with other organizations. The initiative is made possible by generous support from the Jim Joseph Foundation.

In April of this year, professional staff and lay leaders from URJ summer camps, Mitzvah Corps, and NFTY programs gathered at Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City for a day-long leadership summit, learning the ins and outs of LGBTQ inclusion from Daniel Bahner, Keshet’s national director of education and training; Joanna Ware, an independent consultant and Keshet Leadership Project coach; and April Baskin, vice president of Audacious Hospitality at the URJ.

Longtime URJ leader Paul Reichenbach, director of camping and Israel programs, opened the gathering by positioning the work firmly within the Reform Movement’s longstanding tradition of challenging and expanding the definition of inclusion – from making Reform programs available to kids from non-Reform synagogues, to welcoming interfaith families, to embracing gay and lesbian staff members, and most recently, welcoming openly transgender campers at URJ camps.

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