By Quinn Stewart, NFTY-SoCal Member
This speech was given by Quinn as part of a Rosh Hashanah Annual appeal on September 5, 2013
About ten years ago, an issue of the comic book Fantastic Four focused on The Thing, a 6-foot, 500 pound beast of a superhero whose body, due to exposure to radiation, is made completely out of rocks. In this issue, The Thing encounters a villain stealing a small golden Star of David necklace from a Jewish pawnshop owner. The Thing manages to apprehend the villain, but not until after the pawnshop owner has suffered a heart attack. The Thing is unable to give the man CPR; his rocky composure and heavyset build would crush the poor man. Instead, while he waits for the paramedics to arrive, the Thing kneels down by him and recites the Shema.
Sometime later the man awakens. He acknowledges that even though he was unconscious, he was still aware of his surroundings and heard The Thing pray for him. He thanks the rocky hero, telling him to keep the Star of David, and compares him to the Golem, the legendary living statue said to have protected Prague’s persecuted Jews.
What I love so much about this issue (other than that it has Jewish superheroes…I mean what’s better?) is that it acknowledges the bond that every Jew in the world shares. If you meet someone who is Jewish, you can know absolutely nothing about that person save for their religion and already you share this bond, this connection with them. To an extent, the same can be argued for any religion, but I feel as though it’s this sense of community that makes Judaism what it is.
I come from a Polish Jewish background on my mother’s side, and an Irish Catholic background on my father’s side. When I was in second grade they decided to put me in religious school due to encouragement from friends and family. They basically sat me down and said “Quinn, we’re going to put you through religious school, it’s going to be a lot of fun, blah blah blah.” Then they let me choose, whether I wanted to attend a Catholic school, or a Jewish one. Because neither of my parents is very religious, I don’t think I understood the magnitude of the question, or my answer; I don’t think they did either. And, to be honest, I don’t know what it was that made me choose Judaism. Heck, maybe it was just Hanukah’s eight days of gift giving vs. Christmas’s one. Regardless, as the years flew by I would grow to appreciate more and more the decision I’d made that day. Because I was entering fairly late, (Torah School starts at preschool, and I was entering in the second grade), I worried that I would not be accepted by my classmates. I was completely wrong. I was welcomed with open arms by my fellow students and the wonderful teachers here at Beth El. I quickly fit in and before long was an integrated member of the community.
Years passed, and I entered my middle school years. These would prove to be an all-time high in my Jewish journey. In the summers bridging them, I began attending URJ Camp Newman, with loads of financial support from the temple. I made friends there that will last a lifetime; and while other obligations kept me from going this year, I plan to return in the future as a counselor.
In 8th grade I became bar mitzvah. I was happily astounded to discover that my birthday fell near the reading of Noah’s Ark, my favorite Torah portion. I received an outstanding amount of support from Rabbi Briskin, Cantor Davidson, and Debi Rowe in the months preceding my transformation into a man in the Jewish community.
In the years following my bar mitzvah, however, my dedication to Judaism and the temple dwindled. By 9th grade I no longer attended the temple as student, madrikh, or youth group member. Other responsibilities and commitments had slowly drawn me further and further away from the temple until I’d almost completely lost sight of what it was that had drawn me to Judaism.
So, when the rabbi and my fellow peers reached out to me right before my tenth grade confirmation class year asking me to return, I was grateful and extremely joyous. I returned to my studies, my community and was confirmed a year later. Though I had had a blast, and developed a powerful bond with my peers, I began to worry. Was this the end of my Jewish journey, until when I was grown up and would join a temple? Sure, I stuck around as a madrikh, helping out where I could, but I feared as though I was about to face a second lapse in my Judaic life.
That is when I was introduced to NFTY—The Reform movement’s national youth organization, and our temple’s youth group formerly known as BETY (Beth El Temple Youth). Our recently hired youth advisor Ellie Laycook convinced me to attend an event hosted by NFTY SoCal, a reform Jewish youth organization, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever been forced to make.
I’ve attended every event since, and passed a resolution at one of them to change our youth group’s name from BETY to SPeTY (San Pedro Temple Youth) so as to broaden our reach. The combined enthusiasm of both Ellie and myself really reached our temple’s youth, and I am proud to say that over half a dozen members of SPeTY are attending NFTY SoCal’s Leadership Training Institute later this month. This is the most Temple Beth El participation in a NFTY SoCal regional event in over ten years.
This past April, I had the utmost honor of running for and being elected to the position of Programming Vice President for the NFTY SoCal Regional Board. A source of extreme pride for me, the opportunity will not only serve as a way to bring NFTY to Beth El and vice-versa, but as a personal outlet for the development of my Jewish life.
Temple has been many things for me. A teacher, a helping hand, a second home in my times of need. I can’t express how eternally grateful I am to everyone in our temple community for being there in every way when I needed them.
Recently the Union for Reform Judaism created three priorities that its leadership felt were vital to the future of the Reform movement. One of these priorities, they decided, would be to engage the next generation, my generation, in Jewish life, from high school, through college and beyond.
Essentially, these leaders determined that the Campaign for Youth Engagement was so important to the Reform Jewish community that it alone would embody one of the URJ’s three primary principles. I can’t begin to explain how well and completely Temple Beth El embraces this campaign.
The temple is committed to supporting a dedicated youth advisor to help build our teen community. Many of us teens receive generous financial support from the Sisterhood, the Bill Gren Campership Fund, and other Youth Scholarships to attend Camp Newman or NFTYprograms, and we receive emotional and spiritual support in times of need.
Temple Beth El is always there for us, and I know I speak for every past, present, and future young Beth El member when I express my utmost gratitude to all of you who support us. Support comes at a price, however. And being this supporter and helping hand not only for our youth but for the entire temple community takes money. While our annual commitments and Torah School fees are essential and appreciated, they provide only two thirds of the funds we need every year to support the temple and maintain our services and programs.
Every one of us here has been touched by the temple in some way. And it needs our help, so that it can keep doing all it does for your generation, my generation and for future generations. Whatever you can give, with whatever financial assets you are able, please answer this call for support. Your generosity helps us meet our temple’s needs and maintains its ability to support a thriving, happy, community.
I’m a senior in high school. I know this year will go by faster than I could ever imagine, and before I know it, I will be reaching the culmination of my Temple Beth El and NFTY experiences. Though I will shed many tears, there is something that stands out to me in a nice, almost ironic way: that this ending occurs very close to my 18th birthday. Eighteen, as many of you know, is the Jewish number for life, hai. It’s a special reminder that this ending isn’t really a final culmination at all; rather the end of a chapter, and the start of a new one. And I cannot wait to discover where the next chapter will take me, knowing that the experiences gained and the memories made here at Temple Beth El will guide me wherever life takes me next year.
Every year we collect additional funds for a cause we find worthy. This year we are focused on an individual rather than an organization. This summer, Ethan Kadish, a thirteen-year-old boy was struck by lightning in a freak accident at the Reform Movement’s summer camp outside of Indianapolis. The heroic efforts of the counselors and staff saved his life. However, he suffered a catastrophic brain injury and may never make a full recovery. He is looking at years, if not a lifetime, of therapies, health care aides, and more to assist him. An organization called
HelpHOPELive is raising funds for Ethan to help pay for the health care expenses not covered by his family’s medical insurance. I encourage you to make an additional donation to this organization, all of whose funds will support Ethan Kadish and his family as he continues on the very long road ahead.. At this time, Temple Beth El Teens will distribute pledge cards.
Thank you for your generous support of Temple Beth El, and Ethan Kadish.
L’Shana Tova and a Happy New Year.