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Inspiring Moments

Posted on 08/02/2013 @ 11:49 AM

In BBYO there are moments and experiences that are worth holding on to for the rest of one’s life. For the hundreds of teens on BBYO summer experiences 2013, I imagine there have been thousands of these moments. For many of us, they inspire us to do what we do.

Below are two testimonials from ILSI 2013 teens: Masha from the Ukraine, and Yinon and Maya from CRW. If you have seen a teen become inspired from a BBYO program, consider asking them to articulate their feelings in words, a video, or another creative expression. Hang them up on your walls, or broadcast them so many can hear. Celebrate that something extraordinary and important has happened here.

May we continue to inspire in our teens impactful and life-changing moments that inform their commitment to strengthening Jewish identity, building Jewish community, and improving our world.

This Shabbat Message was written by Ira J. Dounn, Director of Jewish Enrichment, Northeast Hub

Masha – Kiev, Ukraine
When I was young I found out that my grandmother was Jewish, but I didn't know how to be Jewish. My parents do not practice Judaism. When I was little I started to notice symbols that were Jewish like the hamsa, star of David, and menorah. I was always asking questions about Judaism, but my mother did not know the answers. My interest in Judaism started when I was younger, but I was never able to explore it. About five years ago I met my friend Nastia at camp. This camp was divided into different nationalities including Ukrainian, Jewish, Chinese, Russian, and Moldovan. I was in the Jewish group with Nastia. In this group they explained to us the laws of Judaism but did not teach us how to practice the laws. At the beginning I was not sure if I belonged to this group. A few years later Nastia told me about BBYO. At the time I was interested in different religions and was on a mission to find myself, so I said yes and joined BBYO. Now, here I am on ILSI having my first truly Jewish experience.

At the airport I was really nervous and forgot all of my English words! I was also nervous because Nastia was not able to come to Israel. I was scared for what was to come, being the only Ukrainian, and knowing nothing about BBYO or Jewish life. This changed when I started to meet new people. It became easier to be here, to talk, and to understand. I have never been alone. Someone is always helping me and caring about me.

When we started doing prayers before and after eating I was very confused. Throughout the trip people explained all of the different practices including services and Shabbat. My mishpacha (family reflection group) was responsible for planning Saturday morning services. During the service two friends, Cory and Ilana, helped me understand. People cared about my first Shabbat experience, and I learned my first prayer at my first Shabbat. I was excitedly awaiting the second Shabbat. The second Shabbat was special because all of the girls felt like a big family. In the evening everything feels deeper. We talked about the spirituality of the elements (water, earth, wind, and fire). I felt connected to the wind. As the wind blew, it felt like the whole universe was holding us together. Throughout ILSI I have been feeling more and more Jewish as I connected to all of the places we visited. Learning all of the history of Judaism made me proud of who I am. It is inspiring to see that the Jewish people never give up. Now I feel that it is my responsibility to help keep the Jewish people alive. It is exciting to see hundreds of teens just like me, with different beliefs and opinions, come together as a community.

Yinon and Maya - CRW
The average teen doesn't get all too close to any Nobel Prize winners in their day to day lives. The teens on ILSI? Yeah, we got to hear a Nobel Laureate speak earlier this morning. It's far from average, but then again, this trip is anything but average.

A little back-story first. Our kehilla (community) stopped by the Technion, popularly referred to as the Caltech of Israel. We always hear about all the innovations to come out of this country and this school is one of the biggest reasons that Israel lays claim to instant messaging, the USB drive, and Waze. But this wasn't just any dinky college tour. We were here to hear Professor Dani Schechtman, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2011. Yes, Professor Schechtman took time out of his day to talk to us because, in his words, he was intrigued by the prospect of a leadership based youth group and just had to share some words with us.

In short, he was incredible. His story was fascinating and he had so much insight to share with us. He told us how he discovered a new atomic structure for crystals that went completely against conventional thinking at the time. He battled prestigious and respected players in his field who belittled his work until the scientific community started discovering that yes, Dani was right all along. He illuminated the concept of a paradigm shift to us and pushed us to never back down from challenging the norm if it meant a chance to innovate and improve. This spoke to me. As a leader in my BBYO community, it's part of my job to question and challenge ways of thinking and paradigms in our organization. He understood this perfectly, and although electron microscopes and a Jewish youth movements have little in common, he hit the nail right on the head. After he finished speaking, about thirty hands shot up asking him all sorts of questions.

The most powerful moment for me personally happened as he was leaving. I was sitting near the front and as he shook one of our staff’s hands, I overheard him say in Hebrew how he found our group intelligent and unique, that we are really something else. To think that a distinguished, world-renowned professor feels the same way as our amazing BBYO stakeholders! He saw our passion and potential just like every advisor, parent, and professional staff worldwide sees in us.

It's surreal. It's reaffirming. Most of all, it's inspiring, as I know for a fact that every teen in that room wanted to make Professor Schechtman proud.

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