by Alexa Horowitz
I didn't know that Jews were a minority until I was 10 years old. Everything I had ever known was Jewish. I went to Jewish day school, all my friends were Jewish, and my parents' friends were Jewish. I live in Northbrook, a well-off and prominently Jewish community, so whenever I went to activities outside my school life, I still assumed that everyone was a Jew. When I was eight, it was natural to me that I was going to attend Camp Young Judaea Midwest, a Jewish overnight camp.
Back then, I didn't realize what an impact Young Judaea would have on my life. I was simply having fun, tubing on the lake, dancing on Saturday nights and laughing with my friends. I kept returning to Camp Young Judaea year after year, and kept on having a blast. As I grew up in the movement, I realized that I knew more about the history of Israel and Zionism than my friends did at home. I started asking questions about different aspects of Israel and Judaism that they never considered and weren't even interested in discussing. Making new friends every year at camp helped me to make better connections with people within my own community. Still, only with my Young Judaea friends did I find people who were just as interested in discovering their spiritual identity as I was.
My experiences in Young Judaea have molded the person I once was into the person I always wanted to be. Not only did attending camp give me the independence that most young teenagers lack, it helped me to develop a sense of community that goes beyond camp boundaries to the entire Jewish community. I fell in love with the kids who cared about discovering their individualities and their selves. The same kids who I had profound discussions with until 2am, and that I gossiped with until 2pm. I fell in love with the kids who I saw once a year, but understood me better than the ones who saw me every day.
Since my first year, I attended camp nine additional years and became a part of the greater Young Judaea year round movement. Sophomore year, I became actively involved in Young Judaea in the Midwest region, helping to plan educational and group activities for Jews throughout the area. By junior year, I was elected as Bogrim (high school) Programmer, a high position on the Regional Executive Board. My election meant that I was now in charge of running activities and providing leadership training for Jewish high school students throughout the region. As a movement, Young Judaea helped me to give back to my community, and I wanted to help my peers do the same for theirs. Through my active leadership role I found a way that I could bring those feelings of belonging I achieved at camp home with me. I helped arrange and plan two successful conventions, one focusing on the Zionist thinkers, and the other on Jewish Identity. Along with the rest of the Board, I asked the participants to examine their thinking and their beliefs.
This summer, I went on Machon, a five-week program in Israel. With the thirty-three people on my bus, I investigated and discussed how Judaism is relevant to our lives, the Arab-Israeli conflict, why we matter to the country and why Israel matters to us. We traveled around the country, from shopping in Tel Aviv, to praying at the Western Wall, to scuba diving in the Red Sea. When we went up north, we examined the checkpoint issue, and in the south we learned about the new solar panels that were installed. The most memorable part of the trip for me was special interest week, where I hiked from The Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean Sea. I have been to Israel many times before, but I had never seen the actual terrain in that way before. I now understand what the land truly is and what it means for it to be ours.
Now, as a senior in high school, I am president of Young Judaea Midwest. This means that I am responsible for executing the conventions, coordinating with the other regions, and overseeing other events held within the area. I am lucky enough to have the ability to give others a chance to feel the excitement that I feel whenever I am with fellow Judaeans. Year-round programs are the best way to keep the spark of enjoyment, exhilaration and enthusiasm lit.
When I first decided to attend Camp Young Judaea Midwest, I did not expect much more than four weeks of fun. But since that first summer, Young Judaea helped shape me into the passionate person I am today. I have learned about Judaism from many different angles since kindergarten, but only at Camp Young Judaea did my perceptions of the world and of myself change forever. Fortunately, my Young Judaea career is not ending with high school. Next year I will be attending Young Judaea year-course, where I will be studying, volunteering, and experiencing Israel for ten months. Everybody should have the opportunity to feel the same sense of belonging that Young Judaea has given me. Forward together, we are building Young Judaea.
To learn more about Young Judaea programs in the US and in Israel please go to: www.youngjudaea.org.