It is a feeling I cannot forget. My heart beats out of my chest; my feet tap as they anxiously await the signal; and my ears explode with the cheers of those around me. It’s a moment of anticipation that far surpasses New Year’s Eve or even a presidential election. It is the moment when hundreds of Jewish teens converge in one grand ballroom to dance, sing, jump, hug, scream, and celebrate our time as the leaders of tomorrow. It is none other than USY’s lnternational Convention, or IC, as it’s popularly known.
I never saw myself as one to love adrenaline. I am scared of heights, dislike spiders, and will never ride a crazy rollercoaster. Yet this one event, this one week and one family have the ability to instill in me an amazing rush of enthusiasm, and I love it.
IC is held annually in locations throughout North America, and with more than 800 attendees, it serves as one of the largest gatherings of Conservative Jews in the world. This monumental occasion brings together our movement’s top educators, leaders and supporters who work hard to ensure the future of Conservative Judaism. As an involved teen who has spent time with so many young leaders, I can say wholeheartedly that the coming years look very bright. I am constantly impressed by the passion evoked by my peers. Whether they are conversing in kittot (study sessions) or playing in our Shacharit Live Band, USYers are drawn to being Jewish.
My own journey started in the Hagalil Region, made up of Central and Northern New Jersey. I attended my first Kadima event in sixth grade, not knowing what to expect. I had the time of my life. The Shabbaton was youthful, filled with ruach, and loaded with food! I’ll never forget eating Shabbat dinner surrounded by tons of kids my age. There were no parents, no phones and no distractions. For the first time, our special day of Shabbat came alive from my Hebrew school textbooks. I walked away from that weekend with so many new friends, and the rest is history.
Throughout my tenure in USCJ’s youth programs, I have been exposed to life changing opportunities – from travelling the country on USY on Wheels to exploring Eastern Europe and Israel with Israel Pilgrimage. I’ve attended leadership training retreats, monthly chapter events and regional programming. All of them bring Jewish teens together throughout the year.
What makes USY special is the quality of its programs, and the fact that there is no single focus. Together we explore a multitude of Jewish values such as Israel awareness and advocacy, social action / tikkun olam, religion, education, socialization, and leadership development. What’s special, as well, is the quality of our professional staff and volunteers, many of whom are USY alumni themselves who continue to support the organization.
This school year, I am proud to be a participant on the 32nd NATIV Leadership Gap Year Program in Israel offered by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Coming from a public school system, I am thrilled to have an educational experience dedicated to Judaic studies. While it is sad that my USY journey has come to an end, I believe this is just the beginning. It is my chance, my time, and the right moment to start applying everything USY has taught me. From observing Shabbat to planning programs, I move on toward adulthood prepared to tackle any challenge.
As I venture off and continue to explore my Jewish identity, I will never forget the feeling I got from USY. I encourage all those reading this article to take action. Speak to your children, your grandchildren, and everyone you know. Get those who are eligible to join USY and become part of something special. Sign up for IC Boston 2012, spend a summer with us, and come find the moment that you will never forget.