For 700 Conservative Jewish high school students from across Canada and the United States, the next several days will be a holiday break unlike any other they have previously enjoyed. The youngsters are all heading to New Orleans to spend the time “rebuilding, reflecting and rejoicing” at the United Synagogue Youth’s (USY) International Convention, being held in New Orleans for the first time.
The underlying theme of the annual USY gathering, which begins today and runs through December 26, is tikun olam, which means “repairing the world.” USY members will engage in a variety of projects, meet with New Orleans community leaders, study, celebrate, tour and meet with a number of prominent USY alumni.
According to Rabbi Dave Levy, director of teen learning, the decision to hold the convention in New Orleans was precipitated by what has been perceived as a still incomplete rebuilding effort following the passage of Hurricane Katrina and the resultant flooding eight years ago. The USY is the youth arm of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the controlling organization of Conservative Jews.
“(The International Conference) IC is about making inspiring teens to make a quantifiable, positive change within the world,” said Levy. “Last year, our rally against gun violence at the IC in Boston could not be more timely. This year, we wanted a chance to use our hands to quite literally shape a better world. This year’s IC will be especially memorable because our theme – Repairing the World – will come to life.”
Levy added that “the energy, electricity and excitement of New Orleans is an irresistible lure.”
Local members of the Jewish community are already interacting with USY members with coordination by USY leaders and coordination with Rabbi Ethan Linden and the staff at Shir Chadash Conservative Synagogue in Metairie. Most of the attendees will be staying at the New Orleans Hilton Riverside.
Award-winning director and film executive Andy Fickman will be honored with the USY Alumni of the Year award, while NY1 news reporter Jessica Abo will deliver the keynote address during the Abraham Joshua Heschel Honor Society inductions.
“When I was in high school, the highlight of my year was attending USY’s International Convention,” Abo said. “I loved spending time with my region, seeing my friends from USY on Wheels and USY Israel Pilgrimage/Poland Seminar and meeting people from all over North America. I feel honored to be joining everyone in New Orleans.”