With over 500 attendees and dozens of presentations on virtually every topic in informal and experiential Jewish education, NCSY’s YouthCon, held on August 19 at the Stamford Hilton, was a smashing success. 

Among the many participants was Jon Gross, senior rabbi at the Beth Israel Synagogue in Nebraska. A steady twitter-er during the conference, he described the experience as "absolutely amazing!" 

"It may be the only conference that brings together leading Jewish institutions ranging from the Orthodox Union, Yeshiva University, Chabad, Jewish Theological Seminary, Camp Ramah, Aish Hatorah, UJA Federation and over 150 others representing every denomination, ” he wrote in his blog American Rabbi.

For Rabbi Gross, the highlight of the event was a heated, but friendly, debate between Omaha’s Joel Alperson and Ilan Caplan, of the American Jewish World Service. The two discussed the nature of Tikkun Olam in the Jewish world. 

“I think the best thing about Youthcon was that there was clearly no agenda other than sharing ideas on how to engage Jewish youth,” wrote Rabbi Gross. “I felt as if no ideas were off limits.”

Over at Baltimore Jewish Life, Gobbie Cohn, youth director at Congregation Toras Chaim, wrote about his own experiences at YouthCon. For Cohn, the best part of the day was one of the many informal networking sessions held during the conference. 

“About 15-20 youth directors sat around and had a brainstorming session,” he wrote. “Each of us shared a program that we were most proud of and discussed methods on engaging children and parents of all ages.”

Rabbi Dov Emerson of DRS Yeshiva High School for Boys described what he thought was "the secret sauce” of the YouthCon event: “Professionalism.” 

“All too often, the field of Jewish education is perceived to be made up of an unpolished and unprofessional bunch,” he wrote. “Personally, I think the critique is leveled a little too broadly and unfairly at times, but we can’t deny the ‘heimishness’ that often personifies our field.”

Youthcon was in sharp contrast to that perception. 

“NCSY and OU clearly appreciate the importance of professionalism in our field, and the experience at YouthCon demonstrated this over and over again,” he wrote. “The conference was located in a beautiful hotel, the schedule was clear and carried out with precision.”

Another point Rabbi Emerson raised was the low cost of the event: only $36 for the full-day conference, including a fully catered lunch and snacks throughout the day. 

“They wanted as many people as possible to attend, and they did not allow cost to serve as a barrier,” he wrote. 

Rabbi Emerson raises an important point about the nature of Jewish education and we thought we’d quote it in full. 

“Attention to the ‘little things’ served to enhance the greater experience for everyone. But it did more than that. Because when Jewish educators feel pride in being part of something so focused and mission driven, their students can’t help but tap into this contagious sense of vigor. When they see their teachers, program coordinators and advisors conducting themselves like professionals, they too begin to feel pride in being a part of it. The best way to imbue in our students a passion for Jewish education is by modeling that passion in our own pride and professionalism.”

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