As a college student the concept of time management is one I am familiar with- whether I am good at it is another story. That being said, I am often criticized for the way in which I spend my time once my daily courses are finished, over the weekends, and during long breaks in between semesters.
No, I do not engage in the prevalent college party scene, nor do I intern for a hotshot doctor or an important government official – I staff United Synagogue Youth (USY). I am a co-advisor for the newly formed Lehigh Valley USY chapter in Pennsylvania, I am a regional staff member for Hagalil USY the Northern New Jersey region, and I am an international staff member, staffing USY Summer Programs for two consecutive summers.
For many of those who never had the fortune of being a participant in USY, and even more so for those who are USY alumni, the motivation for staffing USY is something that is difficult to understand. Furthermore, fellow staff members have even ridiculed me for my significant involvement with the organization. Frequently, I am even asked if I think I myself am still in USY.
This is my response to all those people who want to know – why I do, what I do. This is my response to why I spend hours on end working on programming ideas and new marketing strategies. This is my response to why I spend Friday mornings and Sunday nights away from school driving to and from Allentown, PA, from who-knows-where in NJ. And this is my response to why I chose to spend this summer in Europe and Israel looking after 45 teenagers.
Let’s start off with getting something very important out of the way; I do not do it for the pay, because if I did I definitely must be reading my paychecks wrong.
As a USY staff member, I get to be a positive Jewish role model, a Jewish educator, and a friend. I work for USY for the individual moments. The moment when a USYer breaks out of their shell, the moment when a USYer makes a stranger’s day, the moment when a USYer takes their first steps in Israel, and the moment when a USYer finds their connection to tefillah or God.
Why do I do what I do? – Because I believe in it. I firmly believe in the morals of Conservative Judaism, including keeping kashrut, keeping Shabbat, partaking in social action and tikkun olam, finding meaningful connections to tefillah, and being educated in our Jewish traditions. I believe in being well versed in Israeli politics and the way in which Israel positively impacts the world. And lastly, I believe in the community and family that USY creates, and the leaders of tomorrow that it helps foster.
Yes, staffing can be time consuming, and it can get tiresome and challenging at times, but many of these teenagers do not have a positive Jewish role model in their lives, they lack basic Jewish foundations, and like normal teenagers they are struggling to be who they want to be. I have taken it upon myself to help them along the way to adulthood.
I will end with a story; a while back was a teenager. He was shy, quiet, had trouble socially interacting with other kids, was tired of learning about Judaism, and did not have a connection to Israel. However, not so long after his first USY event things began to change. He broke out of his shell, went on a summer program, found his connection, took on leadership positions, and went on Nativ, the Conservative movement’s college leadership gap year program in Israel. None of those things could have happened without the chapter advisors, regional and summer staff members, and the regional and program directors.
That kid was me, and if not for the staff who I encountered along the way I would not have gone to a college where 33% of the population is Jewish, I would not be on Hillel board, I would not keep kashrut or Shabbat, I would not be staffing USY, and I would certainly not have written this article. I do what I do because I owe it to the organization that helped me get to where I am today. I believe in what USY offers, and I believe in making a difference in Jewish young adults’ lives.