TORONTO — For Max Marmer, United Synagogue Youth – the high school affiliate of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism – has been a “second family.
“It has given me so many lifelong friends, and so many different experiences,” he said.
Now, in his new role as regional youth director for the Eastern Canada Region of United Synagogue Youth (ECRUSY), the 21-year-old York University administrative studies student wants to provide the same kind of experience he had to youngsters across eastern Canada.
Marmer’s responsibilities include pre-teen and teen programming for students in grades 5 to 8 (Kadima) and grades 9 to 12 (USY). ECRUSY (online at ecrusy.org) holds at least four regional conventions and Shabbatons each year and also sends teens to USY’s international convention every December.
Local programs such as snow tubing and movie nights usually include a social action or Israel awareness aspect, Andy Pascoe, chair of USCJ’s eastern Canada youth commission, told The CJN.
ECRUSY extends east to Halifax, but active chapters are concentrated in Ontario at USCJ-affiliated synagogues – three in Toronto, and one each in Hamilton, Kingston, London and Ottawa. Teens can join USY as individual members if their synagogue doesn’t have an active chapter.
Marmer’s predecessor, Rabbi Irit Printz, was director until last August. Having worked as interim director until formally starting as director Jan. 16, Marmer said his short-term goal is to ensure that the rest of the programming year runs smoothly.
A broader goal is “helping our teens find their own personal connection to Judaism.”
The next regional convention runs Feb. 8 to 10 at Marmer’s home shul, Shaar Shalom Synagogue in Thornhill, where he began attending programs as a young child.
Because he never went to Jewish day school, Marmer’s involvement in the programs connected him to Jewish kids his age and solidified friendships with them, he said.
“It also gave me more of an opportunity to learn about the Jewish religion and Jewish culture… I think that aside from my bar mitzvah, the first time I read Torah was in USY, and actually my first aliyah before I had my bar mitzvah was part of a USY convention. It solidified my connection very early on, I think.”
As well, he honed his leadership skills in the organization, eventually becoming USY’s international communications vice-president.
For the last 2-1/2 years, Marmer served as youth co-ordinator at Shaar Shalom. Concurrently, he was also a staff adviser for ECRUSY at regional and international USY events.
As well, he was a Kadima adviser in London, when he attended the University of Western Ontario for a year before transferring to York.
Marmer said he likes to think USY programs “provide a safe space for teens to feel comfortable to express themselves. Nowadays, especially, teens are hit with so many different challenges in their lives.”
Part of his work with youngsters, including summer day camp experience, has included a focus on anti-bullying “and trying to encourage kids to support their fellow teens and fellow youth.”
In a USCJ press release, Pascoe said that Marmer “brings tremendous enthusiasm, terrific experience and a great track record of success in working with young people.”