I recently participated in the first Jewish Leadership Institute (JLI) created by my local Jewish community. I was asked to speak at graduation and writing the speech helped me realize why I want to be a leader in the Jewish community.
Why do I feel strongly about being a leader in the Jewish community?
I learned JLI was created as a way to bring new young leaders to the community. It’s cliché, but we are the future. During one of our sessions, I was called a Millennial and I internally shuddered. The Atlantic, a cultural commentary magazine, published an article on Millennials, and the very first sentence said “We can all agree that Millennials are the worst.” Is this what the current leaders of our community think too? Ugh.
When I read this, I thought, “Well, I’m not really a Millennial because the Millennial generation began in 1982 and I was born a WHOLE two weeks before Jan. 1, 1982.” I found an online quiz created by The Pew Research Center called “How Millennial Are You?” I took the 14-question quiz and I scored a 93 out of 100. I guess I’m a Millennial.
I also learned the authors who coined the name tout us as the next great generation. Another report found we value the same things in life as older generations value. Family matters more than fame and fortune, and being a good parent ranked at the top (see p. 17 of the linked report). A light bulb turned on in my head when I read this.
A bit of my personal Jewish history
I am a first generation American. My parents are from Russia, Poland and Israel, and I grew up in an immigrant household in a suburb of Philadelphia. My Jewish identity has always been very clear to me.
All four of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors and my mother worked for the Jewish Federation as a social worker for Holocaust survivors. My childhood was immersed in history, Jewish tradition, and stories about the small village my family came from. I can trace my ancestry back many generations and having this clear connection to history, albeit tragic, really defined my identity, but my children will not have the same connection.
My strong sense of self has enabled me to overcome just about every hardship in life.
Having an identity I knew at my core and have grown to be very proud of has helped me sail through the trials and tribulations of puberty and high school without getting too caught up in being popular or fitting in because I have always known who I am, and I like myself!
Cyber bullying is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the challenges my girls will have to face when they get older (which is completely foreign to me). Even so, I think it is the inevitable plight of every parent of a teenage girl to hear “You just don’t understand!” followed by the sound of a door slamming. My girls will be right. I will never be able to personally relate to exactly what they are dealing with, but if I can provide them with a strong sense of self, I feel like I am giving them the best foundation to help them grow into the powerful, young women they are destined to be. Now let’s be real, they are already exhibiting formidable personalities as toddlers!
As it turns out, the answer to my original question of why I feel passionately about being a leader in the Jewish community is simple. I want to be a leader in the Jewish community to help my children establish a Jewish connection here in our new hometown in Ohio. My children deserve to know Jewish history, tradition and culture and cultivate their own strong Jewish identity.