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.)