The JTA recently published an article titled USY Drops Ban on Interdating, which has been reposted and shared far too many times by people who simply believe something they read on the internet.  Countless uninformed people have been blogging and posting articles surrounding these actively Jewish teenagers with negativity. If we believe everything posted online, we’re teaching the wrong message to our children and teens.

The recent amendments to the USY Constitution do not remove a ban, but reword some of the important standards and guidelines which USY leaders follow. In light of what’s going on in a world full of bullying, it is extremely important for USY to be aware of sensitivity.

The previous wording was offensive to people like me. I just returned from my 13th consecutive USY International Convention. I’ve spent eight summers and counting leading teenagers in observant Jewish lifestyles in the United States and Israel. I was an officer on the International Executive Board 10 years ago, and I’m still representing this organization today. I’m the result of a couple that interdated. I continue to be present, working with Jewish teenagers rather than taking a vacation when I have time off from work. I’m doing this I care about this organization, the future of Conservative Judaism, as well as the teens that I’ve met and continue to meet. The people making comments are simply behind a computer screen with little to no influence in the organization, so why don’t you listen to me instead? I’m actually involved.

Let me tell you what happened in Atlanta that isn’t being addressed or documented enough. Our youth leaders were taking a stand and fulfilling their responsibilities as leaders. Last week, the USYers spent time learning about the Civil Rights movement. The same exact day the USYers were being socially active, the JTA published an article that rapidly spread with negativity. Such negativity can be construed As Lashon Hara (gossip) which is actually one of the items the USYers at discussion are trying to conquer.

While that poorly documented article was surfacing, this is what I saw. I witnessed over 750 USYers in addition to staff volunteer throughout the city of Atlanta. They provided tools for reading for children, supported the homeless in shelters during the holiday season, and heard from a spiritual leader who was friends with Martin Luther King, Jr himself. A staff member of our own spoke up about the oppression he’s experienced as a black Jewish male. They visited the new Center for Civil Rights. This is what really happened.

I was fortunate enough to escort a group of USYers from the Eastern Pennsylvania region as they volunteered at a homeless shelter. They wiped down about 300 mattresses, heard stories, and toured through a facility where nobody gets paid. Up to 1000 people can go there just to survive. At one point, we were in their clothing closet, and there honestly wasn’t a whole lot for the teens to do, but they met Brandon. Brandon was currently living in the shelter, but he said that he’s been in and out. The teens simply “hung out” with Brandon. They shared music from their phones, asked each other questions, and he did not stop smiling from the second they engaged with him. He helped me find our way back to the bus and said, “That was fun. Y’all helped me forget my troubles. I’m getting ready for my Grandma’s funeral tomorrow, but I feel better now. She had a great life.” These are the things we all need to be reading about.

Tuesday, December 23, was one of the most memorable days I’ve ever had at an International Convention. Each time you see someone repost that JTA article or share a negative blog post about this organization, repost mine instead. Also, check out Director of Teen Learning Rabbi David Levy’s response.

And just to be certain that everyone has the proper information, here is the previous standard and the amendments passed:

Previous Standard

*It is expected that leaders of the organization will refrain from relationships which can be construed as interdating.

New Amendments

*The Officers will strive to model healthy Jewish dating choices. These include recognizing the importance of dating within the Jewish community and treating each person in recognition that they were created Betzelem Elohim (in the image of God).
*The Officers will foster a safe and inclusive community. USY leaders should serve as the embodiment of USY’s Zero Tolerance policy towards bullying, and create a welcoming environment.
*The Officers are expected to hold themselves and each other to the highest ethical standards. This includes refraining from Lashon Hara (gossip), and treating others with Kavod (respect).