HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Training to Be a Dugma

by Jules Gutin Issue: Nurturing Leadership

When I entered high school in 1963 I decided to follow in my sister’s footsteps and joined our local chapter of United Synagogue Youth (USY). I’m not sure what I expected. From a distance, I had observed USYers at some of their activities. They appeared to enjoy the experience. I was particularly impressed with all the ruach.

As I became more involved I was given various responsibilities by the older USYers who were officers in the chapter. Although we had an adult advisor for the chapter, I noticed that most of the decisions and responsibilities were in the hands of the USY members. As USYers we learned many new skills from proper program planning to budgeting to public speaking. Most of what we learned was taught to us by our peers. As a synagogue youth movement, USY included opportunities for development and utilization of religious skills as well. (Many of which were taught by peers).

Many years later, those of us who acquired our basic leadership skills as USYers have assumed a variety of leadership positions in Jewish and secular life. Many claim that their first introduction to those skills was an integral part of their USY experience. Our entire family benefitted from those opportunities, including my wife who grew up in Huntsville, Alabama! All four of my children learned many valuable lessons as well.

One of the most important lessons we learned is that a leader must be a dugma (an accessible positive Jewish role model). It is for this reason that USY leaders adopted and have maintained a series of standards for regional and international officers which help them to teach others by example. In fact, the adult leadership of our parent body, the USCJ, has chosen to follow the USYers’ example in recent years.

The experiential Jewish education which is a key aspect of the USY experience has many different components. Clearly, the leadership development component can have a lifelong impact.

Jules Gutin is the Director of the Department of Youth Activities of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. He can be reached at gutin@uscj.org.

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