By Cindy Mindell
As of this month, Young Judaea, the oldest Zionist youth movement in North America is on its own. In a collaborative agreement, Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, will turn the 103-year-old youth movement that it has sponsored since 1942 into an independent, not-for-profit entity, a decision announced jointly on Aug. 8.
Recognized for leadership training, pluralist ideology, and activism, Young Judaea serves 5,000 Jewish children, teens, and young adults annually through summer camps in the U.S. and programs in Israel.
The split is an amicable one, according to Hadassah national president, Marcie Natan. “Like a child leaving the nest, Young Judaea will always be part of the Hadassah family,” she told the Washington Jewish Week. “Hadassah members take tremendous pride in how effective Young Judaea is in creating permanent connections between American youth and Israel.”
Leaders of both organizations told the Jewish Week that Hadassah’s losses from Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme forced Hadassah to focus on supporting its hospitals in Israel, the core of Hadassah’s mission, including a $363-million commitment to build the new Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower in Jerusalem.
West Hartford attorney Leah Chatinover, of Stanger & Arnold, LLC, represented Young Judaea in the year-long legal proceedings.
“This was particularly meaningful for both Bruce [Stanger] and me,” she says. “We both have a longstanding commitment to Jewish education, Jewish camping, and Israel.”
Chatinover and her two sisters followed their mother into the Young Judaea movement, as did their children. “This is an intersection of my personal and professional life,” she says.
The two organizations will remain connected through Hadassah participation in Young Judaea’s boards and committees, educational programming, and other initiatives. The youth movement will remain in its current office space at Hadassah’s New York headquarters for several months. Hadassah, Young Judaea’s sole sponsor since 1967, will provide transition funding for three years. During that time, Young Judaea will solicit funding from its alumni network, foundations, and other major donors, for growth initiatives, scholarships, and grants, as well as capital improvements and expansion at Tel Yehudah, its national teen-leadership camp in New York, and its four summer camps throughout the U.S. Hadassah chapters will continue to raise scholarship funding for Young Judaea’s summer and year-round programs.
Young Judaea will be run by a professional staff under inaugural executive director Simon Klarfeld. A small founding board has been overseeing the transition; an inaugural board of directors, composed of YJ alumni, is headed by David Bechhofer of Newtown, Mass. Bechhofer, a senior director at global strategy consulting firm Bain & Company, Inc., coordinated many of the firm’s pro bono efforts, including work with the Boston Public Schools, City Year, and Citizen Schools. He created two nationwide programs
for young people touched by breast cancer — the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure Youth Corps, and the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Youth Crew; he travels the country in support of the Avon Walks.
Bechhofer first got involved in Young Judaea as a young teen in his native Ithaca, N.Y., becoming club president, and attending Camp Tel Yehudah. Before entering Yale as an undergraduate, he went on Summer Course and Year Course in Israel.
While at Yale, Bechhofer worked with Young Judaea clubs in Middletown and Stamford and supported the regional leadership. “It was a fantastic opportunity to give back and to
provide others with the opportunity that I had,” he says.
For Bechhofer, heading up the new board is the culmination of a journey that started well over 40 years ago. “Hadassah gave us a unique opportunity for self-determination and was willing to invest behind the group that has stepped up to leadership positions,” he says. “I am thrilled by the number of alumni that have come forward and expressed interest in helping shape Young Judaea going forward. It is – once again – a testament to the core values of the movement.”
Above all, that board is tasked with creating a Young Judaea for the 21st century, Bechhofer says, with the same core values of Zionism, pluralism, non-partisanship, and leadership development. “As we have talked to our constituents – participants, alumni, community leaders and educators – they all believe that what Young Judaea represents is more important now than it has ever been,” he says. “As we look at the issues facing the broader Jewish community, Young Judaea is uniquely positioned to address a remarkable number of them.”
Bechhofer is joined on the inaugural board by David Brand, a New Britain native and lifelong Young Judaean. The Virginia Beach, Va. resident is president and CEO of Alliance for Global Good, a grant-maker dedicated to improving non-profits focused on solving global crises.
Raised in Middletown, Brand was involved in Young Judaea from the mid-‘60s. He took on regional and national leadership positions, and went on as an adult to serve as president of the Tidewater Jewish Federation in Virginia, and on the Jewish Federations of North America (then United Jewish Communities) Young Leadership Cabinet. He is currently a member of the AIPAC National Council.
Brand credits his late mother for his lifelong involvement in Young Judaea. “As an avid Hadassah member, my mom was very, very involved in the youth activities, more than in Hadassah Hospital, and served as youth commission chair,” he says. “My parents both came from Europe, and Israel and Zionism were intrinsic parts of our lives. As soon as my brother and I could get into Young Judaea, we did. My mother was very wise in realizing what Young Judaea could give us: leadership skills, relating to people, understanding what it was like to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
It was a staple of our lives; with all the conventions, Shabbatons, and summer programs, I don’t remember many weekends when we were home.”
Brand was invited to join the national board by two fellow YJ alumni, who were his campers at Tel Yehudah.
Brand says that one of his priorities as a board member is to help college students develop tools to become effective Israel advocates. “Kids are coming up against tremendous anti-Israel issues and have to learn to deal with that challenge, both personally and in the larger sphere,” he says. “We need to focus on the basics: where did this thing called Israel come from? – the biblical, political, and historical perspectives. Also, because kids’ eyes have been opened to universalism, it’s even more important today to understand that it is inherently Jewish to take care of people less fortunate than you, regardless of where they live, and if it’s done appropriately, that creates a ‘legitimacy bank’ for
Israel. That is essentially Young Judaea’s message.”