State of the Union – January 2024

By Shuli Karkowsky, Moving Traditions CEO

Last year, we set out toward the ambitious goals in our strategic plan to double our impact on Jewish youth and the adults in their lives over the next three years. I am blown away by how much growth we’ve seen already.

Goal 1: Reach More Teens

In 2022-23, Moving Traditions partnered with 185 synagogues and Jewish institutions to engage a total of 6,295 Jewish youth in our programs. And we are already projecting an increase of more than 20% in 2023-24! (It’s not too late to bring our programs to your community, too, if you haven’t signed up this year!).

Goal 2: Build an Ecosystem of Support

We know that teens need caring connections and adults like you in their lives to guide them. Moving Traditions offers educators and parents resources to help you meet the growing and changing needs of today’s youth. Last year, Moving Traditions trained nearly 200 educators to run our programs and another 350 professionals working with Jewish youth through CultureShift, our training and consulting program. More than 1,500 parents and educators attended our Raising Up Teens webinars, including the most recent, Rethinking Your College Gameplan.

Goal 3: Secure the Resources to Meet Our Goals

With immense gratitude for our supporters, I’m pleased to say that Moving Traditions raised more than $4.3 million from individuals and foundations in 2023 annual campaign, which will help us reach even more youth this year. As we expand to reach more youth, our staff has grown too, as much as 44% in the last year and a half, from 21 to 31 individuals working remotely across the US. (And, we’re hiring – check out our current open positions.)

It would take a megillah to express gratitude for all the work our team did to make this happen: from writing brilliant curriculum and taking countless meetings with potential partners, to keeping our finance and operations running smoothly at all moments. (I will pause here to call out one specific colleague – our beloved Chief of Finance and Operations, Robin Cohen, who is moving on from Moving Traditions to do mission-critical work with the Tree of Life Memorial. Robin has been an integral part of Moving Traditions for 13.5 years, and we are grateful for all of her many contributions to our financial growth and security. Robin – we will miss you so!)

Looking Ahead

All of this has set us up for an even more exciting future.

In our pedagogical approach, Moving Traditions often encourages “both/and” thinking – allowing teens to recognize tensions and understand where there is space for things that seem mutually exclusive to both be true. Moving Traditions is employing that “both/and” thinking when it comes to planning our long-term future.

We Remain Committed to Jewish Institutional Life

On one hand, Moving Traditions believes deeply in the power of Jewish community, particularly synagogue community. Through our current strategic plan, we are doubling the number of teens we reach. The majority of this growth will be through our institution-based programming – like B-Mitzvah, Kulam, and our Teen Groups (Rosh Hodesh. Shevet, and Tzelem). These programs serve to deepen the connection of teens in those synagogues to Jewish tradition, to each other, and to their institutions.

Because the partners using these programs are Jewish institutions, we call this group of programs our business-to-business, or B2B, programs. As you have seen in our annual reports, these programs are growing robustly and scaling quickly as we serve many underfunded and under-resourced institutions with precisely the curriculum and training they need.

We Envision a Future Where We Serve Every Jewish Teen

At the same time, Moving Traditions is conscious of landscape trends indicating that fewer and fewer Jewish families are choosing to engage in institutional Jewish life. For that reason, even as Moving Traditions intends to continue to serve institutional Jewish life, we also plan to spend the next 5 years experimenting with what it looks like to reach teens and parents directly, in a business-to-consumer, or B2C model. Our first experiments in B2C programs have been Kumi and Kol Koleinu, programs that serve Jewish teens looking to grow their leadership as Jewish feminists, Jews of Color and Jewish leaders skilled in challenging many forms of oppression including misogyny, antisemitism and racism.

In the coming months, we are going to continue experimenting with new ways to bring Moving Traditions programs to new audiences. Much like we have successfully piloted our Teen Groups and Kulam in Jewish summer camps and day schools, we are launching Moving Traditions @ Merkaz, an intensive program for Jewish feminist and queer teens in partnership with Camp Tel Yehudah. This is just one example of the many ways we are looking to partner differently to continue reaching more Jewish youth.

I am hopeful that in 2024, we will support the wellbeing of even more Jewish youth, surround them with caring circles of support, and provide them with the tools to make our world a better place.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your support, participation, and partnership.

Shuli Karkowsky, CEO of Moving Traditions