As a member of BBYO, I consider myself part of “AZA and BBG, The Teen Movement,” a group of thousands of Jewish teens connected through membership in an organization. But if I look beyond that, sometimes I think we forget that we’re part of a larger movement of interconnected Jews across the world.
Recently, I joined a group of teens from around BBYO’s global order and embarked on a once in a lifetime journey, Ambassadors to Ukraine, an eight-day trip to Kiev, Ukraine. During our visit, we went to museums, learned about the local Jewish community, and attended AJT IC, Active Jewish Teens’ International Conference, where 500 Jewish teens from across the world gathered in Ukraine to celebrate Judaism (AJT is a program of the JDC and a joint venture with BBYO). It was truly incredible to meet teens just like me from the FSU, fighting to revive and reinvigorate the traditions of their ancestors.
There were undoubtedly some somber moments on our trip, like our expedition to Babi Yar, a site of massacres carried out by the Nazis during the Holocaust. With meaningful prayer led by our song leaders under the powerful backdrop of our accompanying rabbi’s story surrounding the destruction of Jews in that very location, we not only commemorated the past but celebrated the renaissance of Jewish life in the FSU and learned how we could support and stimulate that revitalization in the future. We explored together alongside our brothers and sisters from around the world and were constantly inspired by one another. We grew together as a group and were united as one throughout our journey.
Eight days later, I find myself back at home in the same routine of school, homework, and more homework. I’m no longer sitting with a group of ambitious teens eager to change the world, supported by top Jewish professionals from around the globe. Instead, I’m back in a classroom learning regular things with ordinary teens who live close by in my small Long Island suburban community.
And yet, despite this, I find myself with a new and broadened perspective on challenges facing the Jewish community both here and around the world. I now have real first-hand experience with Jewish life in places where the global Jewish renaissance is still very much in its embryonic stage. It’s subtle, but I find myself asking more questions than before: most importantly, how can I help?
Judaism in the FSU is being reborn right before our eyes. Teens there don’t have the luxury of multi-generational traditions to guide them in their faith, or abundant synagogues and well-established Jewish centers itching to bring them home. They are shaping their communities, inciting change, leading a revolution, and disrupting the status quo.
The reality is, only a few of us went on this expedition. But in truth, we didn’t go there alone. Thanks to all of you, I flew to Ukraine with voices of encouragement from my friends in my home region, our global movement, and thousands of Jewish “relatives,” eager for the empowerment of our people in a formerly hostile area of the world where we have endured immense suffering.
We must all support the Global Jewish Movement, which can only happen tomorrow if we truly unite today. And luckily for us, tomorrow happens here. I’m so thankful to BBYO, Genesis Philanthropy Group, AJT and their partners for making this experience possible for my peers and me. Let’s keep the candle of Jewish life burning brighter than ever!