Sean Blum has made a life out of his involvement in the Reform movement, and much of that began with NFTY and his involvement with the Kutz Camp. Now, he is the newest member of the URJ’s North American Board and one of the co-chairs of the upcoming URJ Youth Alumni and Friends Concert in honor of URJ Kutz Camp’s 50th anniversary celebration. The concert will take place on Sunday, December 13 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at Congregation Emanu-El on East 66th Street in New York City. We sat down with Sean to learn more about the concert, what’s next for Kutz, and his involvement with the URJ as a whole.
How did you come to be involved with the URJ?
“I grew up in the [Reform] movement. I went through youth group, NFTY-GER ’99-’04 and was on the regional board as the Central Subregion Vice President. I was really active in my home synagogue in Succasunna, NJ, and was a youth group advisor during college. After college, I became a board member at my home synagogue as the youth committee chair. I actually met my wife at the Biennial in Toronto six years ago. She was a rabbinical student at the time—now she’s the assistant rabbi at Congregation Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction, NJ. When we moved there, I knew the synagogue was more her domain so, I thought about how else I could be involved within the Union, and I’m honored and excited to have joined the URJ’s North American Board.
I’m appreciative that the nominating committee felt that having somebody in their early 30s become a part of and have a voice on the board is meaningful and vital for the future of our movement. I’m looking forward to getting even more involved, specifically with youth and our camping system, and the concert is a great foray into that. Youth engagement is a key component of the URJ’s 2020 vision, and this is a great way to continue to strengthen my connection to this strategic element.”
Why is youth engagement important to you?
“NFTY is definitely the vehicle that brought out, inspired and enabled me to be a leader in multiple facets of my life—in high school, at the synagogue level, and now in a professional setting. It broadened my horizons about what was out there and how I could express my leadership abilities that I didn’t even know were there. For me, it was certainly transformative. When I first started in NFTY, I was one of those kids sitting at the back of the room like, what is this? My cousin, former NFTY North American Board President Ashley Habas, dragged me to my first couple of events. It was uncomfortable. I thought to myself, what is this strange world? But then you start to realize what an amazing organization it is, and the opportunities it provides for teens.
When I look back at my high school years and the relationships I had in public school, they were friends, but the closeness hasn’t stood the test of time. The friendships created in NFTY, however, are truly genuine, meaningful relationships which last a lifetime. For example, I ran into a good friend from NFTY, Kutz, and Kesher Birthright at the Biennial a few weeks ago in Orlando. I hadn’t seen her since the last Biennial in San Diego, but we were able to pick up a conversation from two years ago like we’ve been talking every week since. It doesn’t matter if you live on the other side of North America, the relationships are still important. It says a lot about the values and culture that NFTY instills.
Our youth programs provide a transformative platform that allow teens to have a safe space to express and explore their beliefs and passions, and gives them the ability to strive for greatness, to really get out there and do amazing things. It helps quench their thirst in areas like tikkun olam, meaningful prayer and torah study, Israel advocacy, and so many others.
Then there’s Kutz. Kutz embodies everything that is NFTY, but takes it one derivative more. It’s like, let’s harness all of that great energy that is NFTY and focus on developing these teens as leaders of this movement in a variety of avenues, whether it’s TYG leadership, song leading, social action, Judaic studies, arts… It’s about how we can help them broaden and expand upon their passions for the Reform movement and Jewish life in general. For me, it was such an influential place during my formative years as a teen leader in the movement, and I want to see that it continues for the next 50 years and beyond.”
How are you involved with Kutz now?
“After the wonderful Kutz@50 celebration this past summer, I had a conversation with Melissa Frey about keeping the excitement going around Kutz@50. We discussed the power of music at Kutz and in our movement at which point I said that I would be honored to co-chair the URJ Youth Alumni and Friends Concert during Chanukah this December. In addition to co-chairing the concert, I am involved with the Kutz capital campaign, focusing primarily on the young professionals’ subset. Kutz is really important to me, and there’s a whole population of my peers, young professionals, that either experienced Kutz at a regional event, synagogue retreat, or are alumni of a Kutz session for a summer or two. Though they might not have maintained a regular connection to Kutz over the years, they understand the value and importance of the Kutz experience.”
Tell us about the upcoming concert.
“The concert is the URJ Youth, Alumni and Friends concert. It’s not just about Kutz. The timing with the celebration of Kutz@ 50 makes it a key theme, but the concert is about celebrating youth engagement in our movement, and celebrating all the incredible programs our Union offers related to camping, NFTY, and more. The concert is the last night of Chanukah, Sunday, December 13th. Why shouldn’t we come together as a larger community during the time in our calendar when it’s important to recall our past as well as rededicate ourselves to the future and more specifically in support of youth engagement? It’s critically important.”
What can guests expect?
“Josh Nelson and Neshama Carlbach will be an awesome headline act. They are strong supporters of the Reform movement, and even more so of our camps and NFTY. There will also be a NFTY/Kutz style pop-up choir, put together by Cantor Ellen Dreskin, and we’ll enjoy the eighth night of Hanukkah with a musical celebration including current and former Kutz Camp song leaders and New York-area cantors and musicians that represent five decades of music from within our movement coordinated by Creative Director Cantor Mia Fram Davidson. It will really celebrate our alumni and friends of all URJ Youth programming and I look forward to seeing everyone there!”
To learn more about the concert and to purchase tickets, click here.