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Happy Chanukah: How Young Judaea Brings Light to My Life by Klara Walny

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Chanukah is a time for making the world brighter. Each night of Chanukah we’ll be featuring stories from teens serving on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) sharing how adding their Jewish experiences add light to our community. JTAC members are representatives of Chicago’s amazing teen programs. For the first night we will hear from Klara about her experience with Young Judaea.    

My name is Klara Walny and one of the organizations I represent this year on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) is Young Judaea Midwest.  

Young Judaea (YJ) is the oldest Zionist youth movement in the United States. YJ is based on Zionism, social action, pluralism, peer leadership, and Jewish identity – all of which are incredibly important to me. I have been involved with YJ for nine years and I have loved every second of it. After my first summer at Camp YJ Midwest, I could not get enough. I spent this past summer at Tel Yehuda (a Young Judaea camp in Upstate New York), and I am looking forward to traveling across Israel for an entire month next summer. Some of my best friends and closest connections have come from my involvement with YJ throughout the years. Especially during COVID-19, my YJ family was there to support and comfort me during such a difficult time.  

Klara Walny Group

One of my favorite YJ programs I have participated in over the years was called “Tikkun groups”, “Tikkun” being short for Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). My Tikkun group worked on projects specifically combating anti-Semitism. In completing this project successfully, we first educated ourselves on anti-Semitism in the United States and then brainstormed different ways to educate individuals on Judaism and Jewish history. Ultimately, we decided to present on the Holocaust and stress the importance of Holocaust education. 

My group met with representatives on Capitol Hill from the RJC (Republican Jewish Coalition), AJC (American Jewish Committee), ADL (Anti-Defamation League). Additionally, we met with Jewish representatives: Wasserman-Shultz and Zeldin. These conversations provided us with the ability to push for the change we want to see in the world. Personally, this experience showed me that I, as a Jewish teen, can make a difference in not only my community but in my country. Young Judaea has been vital in the development of my Jewish identity; I have been able to grow continuously and begin to understand who I am as an individual.  

Klara Walny

About the Author: Klara is a junior at Glenbrook North High School. When she's not running laps around the school during cross country practice, you might find her writing stories for the school's newspaper or lifeguarding at her local pool. Klara is involved with Chabad of Wilmette and is a JCUA Or Tzedek intern.

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