Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Key Decision

My dad, siblings, and I have this little tradition of sitting in the back of Shul on high holidays. From that vantage point, one can see all of the happenings of the Synagogue. When I was younger, I would examine every person who walked by me as they entered the sanctuary. Most people were familiar to me, but some people were ones that I only saw on the high holidays. During childhood, I commonly referred to these rare-appearance Jews as The Reforms.

Oh, The Reforms. As a child, they were the Jewish equivalent of the anti-Christ. I saw them as so morally misguided, so pitiful. They would walk by, most wearing the same outfit, and just stare at the rest of us. Or so I thought. I never associated with any of them, because that was simply not the Orthodox way. I gazed at a distance, and they did the same.

But then it all changed.

Seth and Avi, my two older brothers, have previously worked as lifeguards at the JCC. As the end of my Sophomore year approached, I decided I would pursue a job as a lifeguard as well. I signed up for the April lifeguard training course with my friend, Sarah. I didn't expect to make any friends at these classes, I simply sought my lifeguard certification.

But I did make a few friends.

In particular, I made one friend. The friend. The friend who changed it all.

I walked in and noticed Tyler, a boy I had often seen around the JCC, and sometimes in Synagogue, but had never taken the time to talk to. We had an instant connection. We soon became close friends.

At this point, I was beginning to realize that not all Reform Jews were as bad as I had previously thought. I began to realize that we're all Jewish teenagers who share common interests, despite the logistics that separate us by sects.

After weeks of hanging out, I decided to request that Tyler introduce me to several of his closest friends.

And the Reformadox Union was born.

I ended up meeting a number of people over the course of last summer. The culmination of my branching out came during the Maccabi games in Memphis. I had a chance to get closer with those I had already met, and I had the opportunity to meet others I was previously unfamiliar with.

Upon conclusion of the games, I didn't know how I was going to maintain the connections I had made. Sure, I had made a few close friends who I knew I would remain close with throughout the year, but there were others who I wasn't so close with that I wanted to get to know better.

So I decided to join BBYO.

And that's when even more changed.

Since joining BBYO, I've attended three regional conventions, been to countless folds, and have risen to become the Vice President of my chapter, Israel H. Peres AZA. BBYO has given me a chance to remain connected to those friends that I met last summer.

But it's done so much more than just that.

BBYO has changed my life.

Before this year, the ever-so-terrifying reality that my closest friends would move away consumed my thoughts. Ever since I was younger, the thought of senior year had terrified me because of how many close friends would be leaving me. But now, now that I've had the chance to formulate new friendships, to acquire new close friends, I'm no longer fearful. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I'm excited. Of course, my closest friends leaving me will absolutely tear me apart. But suddenly I'm optimistic about getting closer with my BBYO friends. BBYO has allowed me to integrate myself in an entirely new group of Jewish teenagers. It has given me a chance to connect with those I previously merely gazed at from a distance. It's given me a chance to clear up the misconceptions I had, and has motivated me to inspire others to do the same.

The most significant impact BBYO has had on my life is that it's inspired me to pursue the more emotionally centered aspects of Judaism. During my first convention, I enjoyed that the focus on Judaism played more to my senses, not necessarily to my intellect. Coming from a Jewish day school, I have grow accustom to textual learning that very rarely plays to emotions. Since joining BBYO, though, I have learned that I connect to emotions much easier and much more passionately than I do to text. I have become someone who has a deeper appreciation for singing circles, group havdallahs, or other emotional, perhaps theatrical, aspects of Judaism that are often overlooked.

Though I've constantly spoken about the fact that us Jews are all the same, I must admit that I've enjoyed meeting extremely unique Jews through BBYO. A friend of mine is not a religious Jew, but his Zionistic passion is so strong, so much so that he has decided to take a gap year in Israel. Another friend of mine, one I happen to be very close with, once told me that she wants to become a Rabbi. She. A woman. Two years ago, I would have laughed at this dream. It's not acceptable in the Orthodox community for a woman to be a Rabbi, and, at that point in my life, I lived by what was and was not acceptable. But BBYO has opened my eyes and opened my mind. New things have suddenly not only become acceptable in my eyes, but they've become so fascinating that they often serve as inspirations. I genuinely hope this friend does become a Rabbi. I'll stop by at a few of her services.

Another integral reason why I love BBYO and all that it has done for me is that it's inspired me to build bridges. I note that there are, and always will be, tensions between the Orthodox and the others. But I've now taken it upon myself to find ways to connect the sects. Whether it's the Reformadox Union, an inter-sect event I'm planning, or just inviting a Reform friend over to an Orthodox hangout, I've made a conscious effort to find ways to build bridges, clear up misconceptions, and ease tensions within the Memphis Jewish community.

In my reflection of the past year, I have come to realize that I've so much enjoyed this year in large part because I joined BBYO. BBYO has changed how I view religion, my passions, and myself as a whole. If I hadn't joined, I honestly don't know what my life would be like - but I do know that senior year would have sucked as badly as I had always imagined it would.

Isn't it strange to have gone through that entire post without reading anything negative or controversial? It was new to me. 

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