Along with being a fabulously handsome Oy! Chicago blogger, I am also the youth advisor for a USY (United Synagogue Youth) chapter here in Chicago. This past weekend, I embarked on a journey to Kinnus, the annual culminating regional convention where every April, about 200 energized USYers from all over the region come together, celebrate a year of awesome Jewish fun, and elect the next year’s regional board and discuss regional events, activities and any amendments to the region’s constitution.
Kinnus weekend truly is an exciting moment for Jewish kids to be able to experience such a strong, close Jewish community that encourages and nurtures its youth. This year’s group of high school students from our chapter were amazing to work with and spent lots of fun times doing mitzvah projects, collecting tzedakah, or just hanging out in the youth lounge and unwinding from the everyday pressures of life. From them, I learned that the value in USY does not just come from learning tefillah or engaging in Jewish learning or activities, but also making valuable and lasting relationships with other Jewish teens, in a fun and relaxed environment.
When I think back to my own experience in USY and SHMUSY (the Anshe Emet USY chapter), I chose not to run for any office because, at that time, I was a political pacifist and decided I would never get elected because I wasn’t that popular. I loved the chapter and that I could hang out with other Jewish kids every week and do something fun, sometimes even educational. We all had a great time and will remember it for the rest of our lives, especially those moments of prayer and reflection amongst hundreds of others just like me.
There is no more special feeling than being a part of a Havdalah circle: hundreds of arms draped over shoulders, bodies swaying to the rhythm of the melody, eyes fixated on the Havdalah artifacts and voices singing, proudly praising God, the miracle of Shabbat, and the promise of a wonderful week to come. As I look around the circle, my eyes adjusting to the darkness, I can see the faint glow of the flames flickering in their eyes, the kids entranced by the melody and bursting with joy and happiness as they hug their friends, new and old. When it came to USY and SHMUSY, I always said and believed, “The friendships last a lifetime, the memories last forever.”
As a USY staff member and Jewish adult, I have a greater and more sincere appreciation for these programs and communities. In the wake of a waning conservative movement, more must be done to protect and nurture the growth and development of our youth. I vow to become as involved as I possibly can. I look around our Chicago community and I see Jewish students wanting more, wanting to be involved and their desire and thirst for knowledge, for interaction with others like them, for the experience unlike anything else in this world. I am inspired by people like our CHUSY (regional) Youth Director, Julie Marder, who has dedicated the last five years to fostering the positive trends and changes within the Jewish Conservative Youth movement, and Rabbi Russo, who has dedicated his life to Judaism and has shown tremendous commitment and care for younger generations to model. I only hope that as I move forward as a Jewish educator I am able to instill the same values in the next generation and help usher a new, exciting and fun age of Jewish fun and learning!
So, this issue’s toast goes to all the CHUSY members and staff out there, past, present and future. Long live USY and long live Jewish education! L’Chaim!