On the surface, I feel like any Young Judaean, filled with love for the movement and commitment to the Jewish people. But when I dig a little deeper, I feel privileged to have been part of the history of Israel. Recalling the historic moment on July 4, 1976, while at Camp Tel Yehudah, I was overcome with emotion when all the campers were called into the Beit Am to listen to the live broadcast of the exciting rescue of the hostages at Entebbe. A couple years later at a YJ Bogrim convention, I learned about a certain Jewish refusnik from the Soviet Union named Anatoly Sharansky, who was arrested and convicted of treason and spying for the U.S. and imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp. We spoke out by writing letters for his release and making signs to demonstrate solidarity. The following year on the Young Judaea Year Course Gap Year Program, I shared in the joy just after Israel won the Eurovision Song Contest for the popular song “Hallelyah.” And it was that year in 1979 that I found myself standing on top of Mount Sinai gazing at the rising sun and watching the beginnings of land changing hands as part of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. My memories of Young Judaea are some of the most covered events in world history.
It wasn’t always that monumental and historic, however. Growing up in Lexington, Kentucky there wasn’t a huge Jewish presence, but Hadassah was strong, and the women decided we needed a YJ Club. So, when a friend invited me to a club meeting at age 12, I jumped at the chance. Immediately, I knew this was the place for me, the place where I could grow and be myself. My YJ acquaintances grew into lifelong friendships that I still have today.
Reflecting on my early days in Year-Round clubs and as a camper at Camp Young Judaea Midwest (later a staff member), I would describe myself as “captivated, connected and involved.” That bond stayed with me throughout my life and YJ has had a profound impact on me, both personally and professionally. The leadership and programming skills I learned through the clubs, conventions and camps so deeply influenced me that they became the foundation of my entire career. With nearly 40 years as a Jewish educator and over half of those years in Director roles, it was Young Judaea that instilled in me the knowledge, passion and values that I now teach to my students. Values like Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), acts of loving kindness, tzedakah and especially the value of giving back. From my leadership roles with Camp Young Judaea Midwest, Hadassah and Young Judaea Global, among others, I can both give back and make a difference. And as a recipient of YJ scholarships for camp and Year Course, I am extremely grateful for the support I received and in turn, am committed to helping others by volunteering for and supporting the organizations.
As a lifelong Judaean, the concept of “L’dor V’dor,” passing down from generation to generation, is fundamental. I’ve instilled in my children the values, traditions, and love for Eretz Yisrael that I experienced in my youth. Just as I was a camper at CYJ Midwest and Tel Yehudah so too, were my children. Just as I participated in year-round programs, so did they. And who knew exactly 30 years after I left for Year Course, that my own son would be heading off for his experience of a lifetime, on Year Course 2009? Young Judaea lives on from generation to generation.
My hope is that today’s youth can have the same opportunities that I had. Committed to building Jewish leaders of tomorrow and passionate Zionists, I continue to carry with me all that I learned in Young Judaea. Like so many YJ alumni, Young Judaea educated us, inspired us and made us who we are today. This is our history.