It's a Jew Thing

What's it like growing up an observant Jew in a modern non-Jewish world? Read on...

Saturday, October 15, 2005


So when I was younger and people told me there was a church youth group it seemed to be for mostly "losers" and it was just kids from their church doing things. Jewish youth groups are very different. I think most practicing Jewish kids grow up in a youth group because it serves a different purpose - for most Jewish kids they don't grow up going to schools that are very Jewish and youth groups are a way for them to meet other Jewish teens and to form a connection with them and in turn with their religion. Most of these youth groups are national so you have the opportunity to meet kids from everywhere, not just your synagogue.

For me that youth group was USY, United Synagogue Youth, and it defined and created a lot of the person that I am. If Judaism set me apart in school, it helped me find “popularity” and amazing friends in USY. The youth group was both religous activities, social activities, and events that were a mix of the two. My synagogue didn’t have a strong chapter (meaning we didn’t have a lot of active members or do that much programming), but my regional organization changed my life. The region was comprised of Jewish teens from all over New England (Senior USY being high school students and Junior USY being 7th and 8th graders), and NERUSY was one of 17 regions in the United States and Canada that made up the national USY organization (NERUSY stands for New England Region USY).

USY gave me several things. To begin with, it was the first place I felt like Jewish kids could be “cool” and I could really be friends with them outside of Hebrew School. Most of my best friends in high school were from USY because we understood each other and had so many similarities in life experiences and general interests. USY was also one of the first times (besides summer camp) that I really had the opportunity to learn from the experiences of other teens like myself who had to blend their religious and non-Jewish lives together. I also got to learn more about my religion from people way more knowledgeable than myself. I was able to become a leader, serving as chapter president, New England Regional Senior Programming chair (so I planned events for seniors in high school and a big senior convention), New England Regional Encampment co-chair (planning a week long summer camp for everyone in NERUSY), and serve as committee chair for the National USY Convention when it was held in Boston my junior year of high school. Most of all, USY taught me how to be myself by teaching me who I really was.

After high school I have continued being involved with the organization that I think is so important in shaping youth Jewish lives. For the last two years I have staffed the National USY Convention for a week in December. For the past three summers I have adjusted by role as Encampment Co-chair and become the Assistant Director of NERUSY’s Encampment program. This is something extremely important to me because I love getting to plan every aspect of such an amazing religious and social week-long event, and over the past four years that I have worked on camp we have seen the numbers and program reviews increase. Lastly, in the summer before junior year of college I had the opportunity to staff USY on Wheels, which is a summer program run nationally by USY. I took 38 juniors and seniors in high school from all over the country across the United States and Canada, by bus, for six and a half weeks. It was an amazing and intense experience where I learned just as much as they did. The main point of the trip is to see the country and all it’s sights while becoming a family with strangers (which REALLY happens), while also learning that you can either find Judaism anywhere or create it by maintaining your traditions (there is really a lot longer of an explanation but that’s good for now). Below is just one of the hundreds of pictures I have of that summer. It's a picture of the group outside Cereal City, a tour for Kellogg's factory where we also learned about how their products are Kosher.

So even though it sounded in previous posts like being Jewish was really hard, USY is an extremely important part of my life that has shaped me in so many ways. And it’s something that I would have never been able to be a part of had it not been for my family’s strong religious identity. (By the way- my parents both grew up in USY and even met at a National USY convention.)


  • At 11:30 AM, Blogger Tara Raphael said…

    I'm really happy that you found a place where you could freely be Jewish. Yes at school everyone knew that you were the "Jewish girl," but to have a place where you were completely comfortable with yourself and your beliefs with other Jews is great. By me they have different groups, and my temple has a Hebrew high school on tuesday nights, which really becomes a social place and they have created a group called, TELY, it's for Temple-Emanuel of Lynbook Youth. They run different programs and take field trips to different places, not really Jewish places, but like Six Flags and the movies. Can't wait to learn more!!

  • At 4:10 PM, Blogger carah said…

    That is great that you were so involved with USY in high school. We had a USY chapter in the Cherry Hill area, but BBYO was much more popular our area. When I was a freshman in high school I decided to give BBYO a chance and I joined a chapter. Many kids were so involved in the program and enthusiastic about it. I unfortunately did not find my niche there. I feel that being involved in USY or BBYO is great for kids who do not have a day to day interaction with other Jewish children. I was already attending Hebrew 2 times a week and had many friends there, plus all of my friends from public school were Jewish. I also think it is great that you were still so active after high school. Likely most of my friends that I made in college are all Jewish, so we share much in common. I hope you enjoyed the high holidays with your family!

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  • At 10:40 AM, Blogger Kristen said…

    I am so glad you were able to find a group of people who supported you and understood your beliefs. Up until now your childhood seemed quite grim and I am glad you had a youth group to fall back on. And you were right in your assumption of other people thinking youth groups were lame. I thought the same thing about my church’s youth group growing up! This is kind of off topic, but I have a question. I know you are probably not thinking about marriage any time soon, but would your parents be accepting if you decided to marry a non-Jewish boy? Or would the not condone the marriage because they are so strict in their beliefs? I know in the catholic religion it kind of matters but not too much. How is it for Judaism?

  • At 10:29 AM, Blogger Shayna said…

    I am VERY much expected by my family to marry a Jewish man. My dad's side of the family (which is more observant) more requires it, while my mom just really wants it. But to me, it has just as much to do with them as it has to do with me.... I have never dated somone who wasn't Jewish, because I want to marry a Jewish man. Because my beliefs are so important to me, I think it would be to hard to raise children who care about their religion while having conflicting religious views of their parents.

  • At 4:53 PM, Blogger Kara said…

    I’m so glad you got to have USY as your outlet and really form great relationships with other Jewish children. It sounds like it was a really great experience for you and helped so much during your high school years. It’s so great that you stayed involved too. The road trip you planned sounds like a lot of fun and such a great experience for the young high school kids you took. I didn’t know Kellogg’s was kosher either! I have yet another question… I know a lot of Jewish people who talk about camp all the time. What is it all about? Are you required to go? How long is it? I know this is like a streamline of questions, but as always I’m clueless! Can’t wait for another post!

  • At 10:26 PM, Blogger Natalia B said…

    Hey, I figured I'd check out our group members' blogs. It's so weird to think that people thought you were weird because you are Jewish. Maybe that's because my mother's side of the family is Jewish and there are a lot of Jewish people in my town. Even though I am not Jewish, I know quite a bit because of my family. They are reformed, so reading your entries are so interesting because you are so observant. Well, keep up the good work, see you in class.

  • At 1:39 PM, Blogger Meredith said…

    That’s so amazing that you were able to find a group like that to help you grow and have such great experiences. I think that groups like the USY are so important for individuals that are not surrounded by people just like them. I bet that you have so many great friends from a group like that. It just made you feel a lot more comfortable about your religion and yourself which I think is a great thing. My community didn’t really have any groups like that for Jewish people I bet if I looked a little harder they would. Yet there were some really great groups for catholic kids that I was always a little jealous of. They would also go on trips and retreats across the country and sometimes internationally. Are you still really good friends with a lot of people from this group? I bet you are and I bet there some of your greatest friends since you shared these experiences together.

  • At 11:33 PM, Blogger The Captain said…

    I am currently in USY and absolutly love it, it's interesting to stumble apon this here! Small world.


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