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What makes Judaism unique and why is it important?

As part of DC Council B'nai B'rith Girls (BBG) annual spirit day on Jan. 22, girls were asked to write and present speeches on the topic "What makes Judaism unique and why is it important to me?" What follows are the first and second place essays. Many of our area teens were part of this past weekend's BBYO International Convention. More than 1,100 Jewish teens from around the world gathered in Atlanta to participate in social service learning projects, study, celebrate and elect their 2013 International Board.

Next year's International Convention will be hosted by our own DC Council at the Gaylord National Harbor Resort Hotel and Convention Center.

by Becky Rosansky
First Place
Jewish is the blood in my veins.
Jewish is the curl in my hair.
Jewish is the deviation of my nasal septum.
Jewish is the color of my skin.

Jewish is the mezuzah hanging proudly in my front door.
Jewish is the trivet with the word shalom written on it in my kitchen.
Jewish is the "Israel Today" poster hanging in my room.
Jewish is the multiple pieces of IDF clothing in my closet.

Jewish is the years I spent in Hebrew school and Jewish is the hours of discussion at the dinner table asking my parents why.
Jewish is the constant desire to be connected to Israel in every way shape and form.
Jewish is the several attempts to learn conversational Hebrew.

Jewish is the fullness in my heart when I say the Sh'ma at the Western Wall.
Jewish is the connection I instantly feel when I meet another member of the tribe.
Jewish is every single man and woman before me.
Jewish is the only way of life I know.

Jewish is the automatic cringe when ever I hear a Holocaust joke.
Jewish is the 6 million plus that I stand for every time I say the Mourners Kaddish.
Jewish is the star on my necklace.
Jewish is the same star that became a badge of shame to our own people not so long ago.

Jewish is the ability to overcome constant adversity.
Jewish is the incredible influence we have in a country where we make up less than 1 percent of the population.
Jewish is the host of my favorite TV show.
Jewish was the man who is the greatest scientific mind in history.

Jewish is my overbearing mother.
Jewish is the food she cooks on the High Holidays.
Jewish is the collection of dreidels that makes an annual appearance and then goes back to the drawer till next year.
Jewish is the explanation I give to anyone who asks how Chanukah is different than Christmas.

Jewish is the telling tone of my voice.
Jewish is the pride I feel when I learn a new Yiddish word.
Jewish is not just the religion, but the culture that I will always identify with.
Jewish is the global community that is still so incredibly unified.

Jewish is the stereotypes we defy ... and the ones we don't.
Jewish is the morals so deeply embedded in our minds that we don't know any other way.
Jewish is the millions who are still being told "no" in this day and age, simply because they are just that, Jewish.

Jewish is the trait that is a source of pride for some, but has made life harder for so many others.
But Jewish is the incredible history of our people.
Jewish is the miracles that we have seen time and time again.
Jewish is the responsibility to pass down the story from generation to generation..

Jewish is my dedication to tikkun olam.
Jewish is the compassion I feel for those in need.
Jewish is my desire to live in peace once and for all.
Jewish is the reason I am ... me.

Jewish is the very fiber of my being.
Jewish is the breath that fills my lungs.
Jewish is the sweat on my brow.
Jewish is the tears in my eyes when the plane lands in Israel.

Jewish is all around me.
Jewish is the song I sing.
Jewish is the food I eat.
Jewish is the life I live.

Becky Rosansky, a high school junior, is a member of Nava BBG.

by Jenna Kress
Second Place

From the dreidel spinning, to the lighting of Shabbat candles, Judaism brings together roughly 13 million people across the globe. What makes Judaism unique goes far beyond the religious belief. It is also the depth of history, the significance of the values and the spirit of community - these aspects combine to make Judaism what it is today.

The religious principles of Judaism are well-known. They are centered on the belief in one God, adherence to the Ten Commandments, and abiding by the 613 rules of the Halacha, or Jewish law. These fundamental beliefs are rooted in the history of the Jewish people, dating back to God's covenants with Abraham and Moses. The history of the Jewish people contains many occurrences that reflect our pride and willingness to uphold our religious beliefs.

The story of Masada, and the deep conviction of the 960 Jews who lived there during the first century BCE, is recognized by many. The Romans had built a wall around the mountaintop city of Masada and there was no escape for the Jewish inhabitants other than enslavement or death. Rather than succumb to their Roman conquerors, the men, women and children of Masada committed mass suicide in order to protect the fate of the Jewish people. And this was not the only occurrence of bravery within our Jewish history.

So many of the Jews who lived during the period of the Holocaust showed their bravery and profound devotion for their religion. The strength of the men, women and children who lived through the Holocaust was immense, but the bravery of the ones who rebelled was astounding. The Warsaw uprising of 1943 was a plan conceived by two Jewish resistance groups within the ghetto. Over a period of many months, they were able to capture weapons so that they could fight against the Nazis who planned to send them to Treblinka. They succeeded in fighting for more than a month, but in the end the German army was too large and well-equipped for them to hold off.

Although neither rebellion allowed them to defeat their enemy, the fight they put up embodied the true strength and pride of the Jewish people within our history. What makes our history so special and unique to me is the fact that we vow to never forget the past. Having recently been on the March of the Living, a trip through Poland and Israel, I reflected in my journal on the train tracks of Birkenau that I had never been so proud to be Jewish. I feel so connected to the people and events of our past. Previous generations and the struggles they faced inspire me and many other Jewish youth to continue fighting for what we believe in.

In addition to the conviction shown throughout the history of the Jewish people, another defining feature is the importance of their values. The principles of tikkun olam and tzedakah shape Judaism. Whenever there are people in need, the Israelis are among the first to help, such as sending medical teams to Haiti after the earthquake. The idea of helping others comes directly from the teachings of the Torah, and is at the core of Judaism. We are taught from a very young age in Hebrew school about the value of tzedakah when we put money in the pushke. And statistically, Jewish philanthropists account for a very large percentage of the significant donors in the world, a testament to their firm belief in giving back. These two core values are the basis for what makes Judaism so unique to me, the idea that Judaism tells us to be more concerned with actions than beliefs. In BBYO, the community service fold is an important aspect of what we do which reinforces tikkun olam and tzedakah as a vital part of our lives and makes us proud to be Jewish.

The spirit of community is central to Judaism, and what draws me most to our religion. An example of how the fate of one Jew can gather the strength of the entire community is the plight of Alan Gross. He has been unjustly imprisoned in Cuba for two years, and Jews in our area have been coming together and holding weekly vigils to protest and demand his freedom. This is what makes the Jewish community so special - the way we are always there to support one another in times of need.

There is a game we've all heard of called Jewish Geography - "Wherever you go, there's always someone Jewish, you're never alone when you say you're a Jew." No matter where another Jew is from, you are guaranteed to know Jewish people in common from their hometown. This is a huge part of BBYO where we are all lucky enough to meet and bond with Jewish youth from around the country and the world, and where we develop friendships that last a lifetime and are sealed by our shared Jewish history, values and sense of community.

In spite of the relatively small world population of Jewish people, we are so much stronger than just our numbers. And this is evident in BBYO's continued impact in our community and throughout the world. We keep our rich history alive by vowing to never forget those Jews who lived before us; by continuing to help those in need through our commitment to tikkun olam and tzedakah; and through our incredible sense of community spirit.

Jenna Kress, a high school junior, is a member of Ahavah BBG.

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