As a 10th grader here at Golda Och Academy, I have been a part of this amazing Jewish community since Gan (Kindergarten) and have continued to grow and establish my Jewish identity each and every day. At the start of my freshman year, I created a goal for myself to try one of the many Jewish youth groups in our area in order to meet more Jewish teens. My dad always mentioned how he was involved in a conservative, now pluralistic, Jewish youth movement called BBYO. He told me about all the fun events his chapter planned and how he attended regional events from dances to conventions. This sounded very exciting and inspired me to join a local chapter, starting my own BBYO journey.
Once I joined my local chapter and started to attend the meetings, I learned BBYO traditions and values. Two of the BBYO values that especially stood out to me were Community Service and Jewish Heritage. These values mirrored some of GOA’s values: Repair of the World, Love of Israel, and Jewish Life and Learning. These values have shaped me into who I am today and have given me comfort in a new Jewish community. Knowing that BBYO values align with GOA values encouraged me to become more involved. This is when I started attending regional conventions.
At my first convention, a few of my new friends had planned a fun and interactive Shabbat service. They needed a song leader, and I volunteered to help lead. Little did I know how much this experience would contribute to my BBYO identity. I felt very connected to my Jewish identity, not only at this service but throughout the convention, singing the Birkat after meals and huddling around to end the week with Havdalah. When the weekend came to an end, I realized how my Jewish identity thrived in this new setting and how I wanted to explore more of the Jewish parts of BBYO.
Last March, I was appointed one of the chapter’s sisterhood chairs. This meant that my co-chair and I would plan more meaningful meetings about any topic. I was very excited about this position because it gave me a chance to be creative and plan meetings in which I could incorporate Judaism. Our first sisterhood event was scheduled a week before Passover. This gave me the idea to talk about how women in the Torah, specifically Miriam and the ways she shaped women’s empowerment for Jewish women. At this meeting, members created their own Miriam’s cup to bring to their Passover seders as well as hygiene bags to donate to a local women's shelter. This program truly embodied the values of both BBYO and GOA.
This past summer, I attended BBYO Passport’s USA Western Trek, where we toured Arizona and California for three weeks. I met tons of people from all over the country and shared amazing experiences and memories with them. My favorite time of the week was Shabbat. Although the weeks went by quickly, Shabbat was a time where we could talk about what has happened over the past week and connect on a deeper level with one another and our Jewish identities. We had conversations about the Jewish traditions we participated in at home and traditions we would want to bring back with us once the trip ended.
After this amazing trip, I attended another BBYO summer program called Chapter Leadership Training Conference (CLTC). We learned about each position on the chapter board and how they contribute to the experience of members. My favorite part of each day at CLTC was our Shacharit service. Each morning we would gather in the amphitheater and pray together, learning new tunes and talking about our Jewish identities. Again in a new environment, I felt really comfortable talking about this important topic that GOA’s values have prepared me for in the outside world.
This year at BBYO’s 99th International Convention, I had the honor and privilege to lead an Israeli culture Kabbalat Shabbat service and a Maccabiah Shabbat morning service. It was really fun to plan these services and to put my own touch on the tunes for prayers. For the Israeli service, I wanted to talk about how Israel is a melting pot for all Jews and cultures. To incorporate this theme, for each prayer, I introduced a new Sephardic tune as well as tunes we sang during my summer programs. For the Maccabiah service, my co-leader and I wanted to connect each prayer to sportsmanship and the ways that Maccabiah brings people together. I made sure that each service could be applied to BBYO values as well as keeping GOA values in mind. Although at times planning these services could be stressful, I really enjoyed the process of preparation for both of them. Leading these services at such a large convention was nerve-racking, exciting, and rewarding for me especially because it was my first IC. I would not have wanted my weekend to look any other way and it further showed me how far I have come with connecting to my Jewish Identity.
Each year at BBYO’s International Convention, they recognize teens who have made a difference in their chapters, regions, and throughout the international order with different awards. I had the honor of receiving the Rising Leader Award and both Silver and Gold Star of Deborah awards. This was a really proud moment for me as I would have never pictured this when I first got involved in BBYO.
Without the confidence and values that Golda Och Academy has given me, I truly do not know where I would be today. These values have helped shape me and will stick with me as I continue to grow and experience new things in the future.