JYCA is a program created and led by youth to work towards progressive social change. We seek to educate, empower and inspire political, social, environmental and cultural awareness and action in young activists, guided by Jewish values of social justice.
We educate, empower and inspire young activists by building a community based on trust, respect and cooperative process. In this safe environment we are able to use Jewish perspectives to examine ourselves and the world, inspiring greater political, social, environmental and cultural awareness and action.
We envision a Jewish community that recognizes the importance of investing in and following the leadership of youth. We envision interconnected networks of Jewish youth who experience their Judaism and their social justice values as one in the same, and who have the tangible skills to participate in movements for justice. We envision movements for liberation vibrant with the songs, voices, leadership and allyship of Jewish youth and young adults.
We envision a world in which youth are treated respectfully by adults and lifted up in their brilliance. We envision a world in which humans understand ourselves as inextricably connected to the earth and all that is living and in which Jews mobilize towards justice from a place of joy, pride and connection instead of a place of fear. We envision an end to anti-Semitism, islamophobia, xenophobia, ageism, adultism, racism, white supremacy, classism and all systems of institutional oppression and violence. In their place, we envision a deep honor of life, interdependence between peoples, and Jewish communities defined by love, celebration and justice.
We have three programs for high-school aged youth. To learn more about each of these programs, visit our programs page.
Some things that make JYCA programs special:
Location, Location, Location: We meet teens where they go every day. We meet them in their homes, at their schools, at their favorite parks, at protests at 6 in the morning to take a stand for environmental justice. We meet youth in their synagogues, we meet youth who don't belong to synagogues, and everywhere else they spend time. We maximize the participation of our youth and the relevancy of our programs by being with our teens where they are.
People, People, People: We understand that relationships are central to the leadership development and educational richness of our programs. We nurture participants' relationships with an intimate cohort: with each other, with staff, and with their larger Jewish and political communities. We understand that the learning happens in relationships.
Multiple Portals of Entry: We offer multiple portals for entry and flexible engagement structures for youth participating in our programs. They can run and lead our programs, mentor other youth, collaborate with movement organizations, lead the board of directors or they can just show up for trainings and actions. It's their organization and their participation is their choice.
Our youth are JYCA: We understand that many teens thrive upon opportunities to have a stake in the work—to be active, not passive recipients—which can increase the meaning and depth of their involvement. They decide on the political campaigns they work on, they facilitate their own retreats with staff support, they watch out for the well-being of their peers. They understand this is their program, and that is unique.
In JYCA, youth are seen, accepted and loved for who they are while taking a stand.
JYCA was founded and created by Pella Schafer in 1995. In deep collaboration with youth in the East Bay, Pella Schafer developed a unique program that offered Jewish youth a place to connect to their Jewish histories and personal identities through the lenses of tikkun olam and tzedakah.
JYCA was founded out of the need for young progressive Jews to find their collective voice of resistance, cultivate their passion and commitment to social justice, and feel empowered to make transformative, concrete changes in their communities and in the world. 25 years later, JYCA remains a youth-led program dedicated to the same founding principles. JYCA continues to create a safe space for youth to connect to their own Jewish identity in a way that is meaningful to them and to build a Jewish community based on shared values for social and environmental justice.
Throughout the years JYCA has remained innovative and dynamic, exposing youth to the most pressing social movements of the moment, providing a wide range of opportunities for leadership development and engaging youth through courageous art, bold activism and radically loving community. From taking on the AIDS epidemic, to taking on the death penalty; from organizing their peers to get involved in criminal justice reform to canvassing for progressive ballot measures in every election. JYCA youth are using their voices and visions to embody their Judaism and to change the face of their communities.