Blog  L’Dor V’Dor – From Generation to Generation

L’Dor V’Dor – From Generation to Generation

Dear Friends of the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel,

On August 24, thirty three high school students from 17 states and provinces across North America departed New York bound for Tel Aviv and the Fall semester of NFTY’s EIE High School in Israel program. They will spend the next three months immersed in the story of Israel and the Jewish people under the care of EIE Principal Baruch Kraus and his wonderful team. This will be the final semester of Baruch Kraus’ extraordinary almost twenty-five year tenure as the leader of NFTY’s EIE program. Baruch will be retiring at the end of December at the conclusion of this semester.

Baruch has created the premiere Jewish living and learning experience we offer teens. His leadership and vision have guided EIE and has returned home two generations of young people who feel a profound sense of personal connection to Israel, Zionism and the Jewish people, a deep love of Jewish learning and the Hebrew language. Moreover, Baruch has cared, with great passion and commitment, for the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs of his students. His imprint on young people and their experience has made EIE the pivotal and transformative experience of their young lives. I know of no one who has worked harder or with more dedication than Baruch Kraus to achieve these lofty goals.

Since 1990, thousands of parents have entrusted their children to his care with absolute confidence. Baruch’s remarkable gifts as a Master Teacher of Israel and Jewish tradition was matched by his knowledge of the personal academic needs of his students ensuring the success of both their Jewish journey and  general studies, so critical to their high school and college careers. When you are responsible for teens for four months at a time in an intense and demanding residential program you need to be prepared to support young people far from home during their adolescence. Baruch cares deeply for the welfare of every child and with the support of his partners at EIE has made herculean efforts to help each student succeed while coping with the myriad of challenges that any residential program far from home presents.

One of his greatest talents has been assembling an extraordinary team of program leaders, faculty and counselors who implement his vision for the EIE experience. Baruch has mentored and guided his staff to reflect his demand for excellence, always concerned about the needs of his students and their welfare. Baruch understands that the creation of a caring and inclusive community that reflects our Reform values and practice is central to the success of EIE. His great respect for young people and what they feel and value has been a hallmark of his tenure.

Perhaps his greatest achievement has been the multifaceted impact of the experience he nurtured on the lives of young people he touched these many years. His students returned home with confidence in their ability to function as independent young adults launching them successfully into the next phase of their personal lives. His students have returned home with confidence that there is practically no challenge they cannot surmount given the support they received and the skills they acquired on EIE. His students return home with a sophisticated and meaningful understanding of Jewish life and the desire to live intentional and engaged Jewish lives in North America and in Israel. What a great gift Baruch has provided to these young people, their families, our congregations and Reform Judaism.

We look forward to honoring Baruch in the months to come for his monumental accomplishments and his impact on young people, Israel and our Movement.  But now, in his special way, he will concentrate on caring for a new semester of excited, inquisitive, anxious and highly motivated students. There is no doubt that as these teens conclude their Fall semester on December 28 and as Baruch concludes his amazing career, they will fly home inspired and Baruch will go home to Ilana in Kfar Sava with great satisfaction for a job well done.

While Baruch’s retirement is bittersweet for all those who have had the privilege of working with him, it is with great pleasure that we announce that Rabbi Loren Sykes will follow Baruch as Principal of EIE. Loren will spend November and December with Baruch and the EIE team preparing for the transition and ensuring that the spring semester gets off to a great start.

Rabbi Loren Sykes grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago.  Rabbi Joseph Strauss z”l of Temple Menorah, once a URJ synagogue in West Rogers Park, played a significant role in Loren’s early Jewish experiences. Loren was a lifelong Jewish camper and active member in synagogue and youth group life.  In 1988, he earned B.A. degrees from Columbia University and The Jewish Theological Seminary where he also received his M.A. and rabbinic ordination in 1993.

Loren brings seventeen years of senior leadership in Jewish camping to his position as principal of our EIE program.  He was the founding executive director of Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia.  He also created Camp Yofi: Family Camp for Jewish Families with Children with Autism, a groundbreaking program for which he received the Covenant Award for Excellence in Jewish Education in 2006.  Loren comes to us with vast experience in not-for-profit leadership and management as well as years of volunteer service on the boards of directors of several Jewish day schools.

In August, 2013, Loren, his wife, Rebecca, and their teenage daughters, Mira and Amalya made Aliyah, moving to Jerusalem.  Their son, Elan, joined them and participated in a gap year program prior to starting college in the US.  They are active in a number of community organizations where they focus their energy on religious pluralism, coexistence and social equality for all Israeli citizens.

“Serving as the principal of NFTY’s EIE program is truly a privilege.  I am humbled to follow in the footsteps of an exceptional Jewish educator like Baruch Kraus.  I am also very excited to join the exceptional URJ team, to work under the leadership of Paul Reichenbach and to serve with the highly experienced and successful leadership and faculty of EIE. 

“As a rabbi and educator, my mission is to help Jewish teens take the next steps on their Jewish journeys.  It is also to create opportunities and experiences that lead to loving the People, the Land and the State of Israel, with all her blessings, achievements, challenges and shortcomings. As principal of EIE, I look forward to combining these two missions, to helping grow the future leadership of Reform Judaism in North America, and to strengthening the value of religious pluralism in the State of Israel.”

We are all incredibly excited about Loren becoming a member of the URJ Youth team. Loren can be reached at Lsykes@urj.org. Thank you all for your active support of the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel. We look forward to partnering with you, our alumni, parents and Jewish communal leaders to encourage more teens to have the extraordinary EIE experience.

With deep appreciation for Baruch’s leadership and with excitement for the future,

Paul Reichenbach

URJ Director of Camping and Israel Programs