This story comes to us from BBYO, the leading pluralistic teen movement aspiring to involve more Jewish teens in more meaningful Jewish experiences. For 90 years, BBYO has provided identity enrichment and leadership development experiences for hundreds of thousands of Jewish teens. Hayley Krolik is a rising junior at Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California. She has been a proud member of BBYO for over two years and recently returned from BBYO’s International Kallah, a program dedicated to helping members discover their Jewish identity.
I stood under the Perlman tree - the huge tree at B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp, infamous to AZA and BBG members - surrounded by the Torah, the book of our people that inspires and guides us. Arms around each other, BBYO’s International Kallah participants joined in singing “Lord Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary,” mirroring the theme of the three-week Jewish enrichment program. We were about to receive our personal siddurim, something tangible we could take away from the program to help us further our connection to Judaism back home.
Looking at the unrolled scroll, I was able to locate my Bat Mitzvah portion. I was brought back to the beginning of my Jewish journey, where I became a Jewish adult and had the power to influence what my Judaism would be like for the rest of my life. At that point, I didn’t realize that three years later I would be at a BBYO Summer Experience rediscovering my Jewish identity. But, as I looked at the smiling faces around me and the ancient text that had taught me so much, I knew that I didn’t want to be anyplace else. Before Kallah, I never thought deeply about what I believe in and why. I had taken classes at synagogue all my life, but I internalized those lessons without deciding what I personally felt was important. In Beiteinu, groups where we reflected on the themes we were taught throughout Kallah, we were introduced to a quote about identity which made me stop and think: “You find that a person is called by three names: one by which that his father and mother call him, one that people call him and one that he acquires himself. The best one is the one that he acquires himself (Tanchuma VaYakhel, 1).” The name you acquire yourself, your identity, is shaped by personal experience, thoughts and feelings. It is authentic and genuine, developed without judgment and not restricted by a social mold. This quote, and many other moments at Kallah, inspired me to make decisions about my Judaism and helped me define my own Jewish identity.
In Limmudim, our daily classes, we discussed a variety of topics relating to Judaism, such as what it means to be Jewish, holidays and G-d. Sitting in one class on the first day, we began to discuss our opinions on being called “the chosen people” and our responsibility to Jewish continuity. This also made me sit down, think about and discuss what Judaism means to me and the effect it will have on my later life. It was astounding how many different viewpoints other participants shared and, as we debated, we were pushed to question our core values and consider our futures. Not only had I not considered my personal beliefs previously, but I had never formed a concrete opinion about or connection to Judaism’s homeland, the state of Israel. Israel took the spotlight at Kallah as much of this summer’s situation occurred over the course of the program. BBYO hosted a live streamed briefing from the Israeli Embassy with the Counselor for Academic and Public Affairs that my friends and I at Kallah were able to watch. We received Israel updates almost every day and anyone could sign up for the Israel Limmud. The six Israeli counselors at camp brought another dimension to the events unfolding. As they described their perspectives and stories, we were able to connect people and experiences to a seemingly removed situation. I realized that just as much as I wanted to make more decisions about what I believe in, I needed to establish a viewpoint about Israel. It was important to me to determine where I stood so I could debate and learn with a purpose. I listened, I talked and I thought and, as the counselors read the names of every Israeli who had died this summer before reciting the Mourners Kaddish while tears streamed down my face, I knew I stood with Israel.
On the last night of Kallah, we had our final all-girls program. Wearing all white, we were guided under a chuppah, a Jewish wedding canopy, near the lake and led to our seats. We listened to a moving script about how Kallah means “bride” in Hebrew, and that marriage can mean many things; in this case, we were marrying, or committing, to our Jewish identity. Then, as I wrote down my “vows” on how I wanted to carry on my newfound commitment to my Jewish identity at home, I was overcome with a sense of fulfillment. I had come to Kallah to find myself, and I had accomplished just that. I thought about my last session in the “G-d Talk” Limmud, where the facilitator asked us to create a personal creed expressing what we believed in and I realized that, for once in my life, I was able to write something down without thinking twice. I ended up filling four pages. I brought myself back to the present and went to write how I’ll move forward. But, as I put pen to paper, I was surprised to find that I had many more ideas, different than what I had put in my personal creed that I wanted to try at home. Yes, I was proud of what I had accomplished, but I wasn’t done affirming my beliefs. There would always be more to discover, more to question and more to decide. At Kallah, I had only begun to acquire my name, my identity. I can’t wait for the rest of my Jewish journey.
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.