I am blessed with a congregation that is engaged regularly with the life of the children and teens. That sounds self-evident. Isn’t every congregation? The record speaks for itself. We do Confirmation in 12th grade, and confirm at least 80% of our Bnai Mitzvah. Roughly ½ of our high school students participate in NFTY regional events, and it is the rare year when we don’t have at least one regional officer. We send kids to NFTY in ISRAEL, and on summer and school year EIE programs. Our kids participate in the various Mitzvah Corps programs. Many people at Camp Harlam believe that Lancaster has a large Jewish community because we have so many campers and staff from here. We have had campers at 6 Points Sports since it started, and we will have campers this year at both the 6 Points Sci-Tech and Harlam Day Camp. We accomplish all of this with financial help from our Sisterhood, our Brotherhood, and a Temple fund, and through the help of gracious and generous volunteers. We routinely honor our kids who have these experiences. We listen to them. We host regional NFTY events as often as we can, and the whole congregation gets involved.
Am I boasting? I guess I am, but there is no secret here. Rather than focusing on my view of all this, read what the 12th graders themselves say as they reflect back. I’m proud of our congregation, but this is the story of our movement at its best.
– Rabbi Jack Paskoff
Confirmation is Not Just a One Day Event
Confirmation is not just a one day event; it is something I have been preparing for my entire life, and will continue to work toward as I try and develop a better sense of the Jewish religion.
Something that is important to me, regardless of my faith, is service to others. This past summer I was fortunate enough to travel to Costa Rica with Mitzvah Corps, which is supported by the Reform Movement. While on my trip, I was not only a servant leader, but was able to establish Judaism more concretely in my life. I felt a deep connection to the people around me, even though I had never met them before, because we were all Jewish. I also felt connected to the people of San Jose who invited us into their Temple to celebrate Shabbat. The feeling of inclusiveness was overwhelming, and I am happy to know that, wherever I venture to next, there will always be a Jewish population.
Luckily for me I still have the rest of my life to determine my Jewish identity, and to be a part of more experiences that will add to my confirmation. I know I may not be the most traditional in the way I practice the religion, or the one most likely to give up carbs for Passover, but I will always have Judaism. It is a safety net to fall back on, and I am grateful to have had role models to instill these values in me. First and foremost is my passion for serving others, which directly correlates to tikkun olam. Then, there is my love for my family, past, present and future, L’dor v’dor. Finally, it is honoring my late grandmother, by choosing to be a member of the Jewish community. Although she is not physically here, I know she is proud to see me be confirmed and to continue living her legacy. I am confirming my choice to make the right decisions and strive to make the world a better place. I am confirming my readiness to see where else Judaism can take me.
My Jewish Journey
My Jewish journey has taken me so far, even though there have been some tough times. But without these tough times, I would not have had the biggest Jewish milestone in my life (besides my Bat Mitzvah of course). I ran for NFTY-PAR Regional Board two years in a row, unfortunately losing both times. The first time was the hardest, but people supported me and showed me that I could be strong enough to move on. The one person that helped me the most was Rabbi Paskoff. I sat in a lobby chair with my head in my hands and Rabbi says that it’s going to be ok and that I was going to get through it. The best part about this conversation was the ending. I pulled myself together and Rabbi looks at me and says, “Are you ready to go back in?” On that day, he showed me that I can still hold my head high, even though I am not in a formal position, and my life isn’t as bad as I thought it would be without being on that position; it’s actually better.
Today I am confirming that I am continuing my search for my Jewish identity, I’m just taking it out into the world instead of just here at home. I am confirming that I love my Judaism and I will raise Jewish children; I will marry someone who loves me for who I am and will raise Jewish children along side of me. I am confirming that I will question everything because that is such a Jewish thing to do. I am confirming that Israel awaits me; I am confirming that my heritage will never be lost, even if I am. I am confirming that college might be a challenge beinga minority, but I will always find a way to fit in, even if it means standing out. I am confirming that my Jewish life is not over, but just beginning. I am confirming that my Jewish identity will never fade, and neither will my determination to keep it that way.
Jewish Wherever I Go
I am a stubborn person. I get it from my dad. But my dad was the one who has influenced me to continue my Jewish learning. My dad pushes the idea of Jewish community and how good it feels to be part of something larger.
I’m Jewish everywhere I go, but it always feels a little different depending on where I am and who I am around.
I am so thankful I had the opportunity to participate in the Maccabi games and thankful for the Temple’s help and support. I had never heard “HaTikvah” sung in public by tens of thousands of people. Being in Israel taught me not to hide my Jewish pride, but to show it in public. After living in Israel with an Israeli family for ten days with the Maccabi Games, my pride in Israel and in Judaism has risen greatly.
My friends asked me if I believed in God. I quickly answered that I wasn’t sure. I have always asked myself how I could believe in God if I had never had a personal experience where God spoke directly to me or guided me in some way, and I didn’t want to believe in God just because many people do. I want my own beliefs. I told them that, to be a Jew, you didn’t have to believe in God. My friends didn’t grasp how I could be Jewish and be an active participant in my Jewish community yet not believe in God. After this year in Confirmation class, I feel as though I am more prepared to think about my personal beliefs. To be honest, I’m still questioning, but being a part of our Jewish community and trying to understand my religion has given me exactly what I wanted and the opportunity to ask many questions. As I have grown as a Jewish woman, I have learned that being a part of Jewish community is what makes me a Jew. While we may not all believe the same things about God and life, we are all in this together.
Making My Own Decision
On May 2, 2009, I stood up here in front of many of you for my Bat Mitzvah, the day I became an adult in the Jewish community. Since then, my views on Judaism have changed drastically and it is not until now, five years later, that I feel almost ready to start making my own decisions.
Three years after my Bat Mitzvah, I spent an amazing summer in Israel with NFTY EIE. I had never shown much interest in Israel, but when I heard the other students talking about their trips, it made me curious. EIE is a study-based trip where you travel all around Israel and learn about our history there. One of my most impressionable memories from this trip happened on Masada. There is a walkway where you can stand and look out at the surrounding mountains and Dead Sea. At this place, if you yell, your voice echoes back off the mountains and it sounds like there are thousands of people answering you. It’s amazing. My group of 21 people who I became so close to were standing at the walkway and our guide, David, told us to yell “Am Yisrael Chai” which means “the people of Israel live.” So we yelled, then silence, then we heard the mountains answer us “Am Yisrael Chai” with a thousand voices. Some people thought of it as our ancestors answering us. Some thought the voices represented the voices of the people who died on Masada. Personally, when I heard the echo, I felt that it was the future Israelis assuring us that we need to pass on our heritage so they have the chance to be yelling.
Confirmation is a very vague term and it can be different for everyone. For me, I am confirming that I will continue developing my Jewish identity. I am not sure if that will be in Hillel at college or studying abroad in Israel. It is very important to me to learn Hebrew, so that will be my next big step in becoming fluent. Finally, today I am confirming that not only am I an American Jew, but I am also a Jewish American.
Voice of a Leader
Even though I do consider my Bat- Mitzvah a milestone in my life, I see it as a less meaningful one compared to others. I recognize that it is a very important tradition in Judaism and one becomes an “adult” once they have finished the process, but for me I didn’t feel as though I became responsible with and for my Jewish identity.
The milestone that was the beginning of my understanding of that is joining NFTY. I didn’t know it at the time, but NFTY would soon shape me into the person I am today. Going into high school and going into NFTY at the same time was such a positive experience for me because, if I was having a rough time at school, or with my friends at home, I knew I could go to a NFTY event or talk to my NFTY friends and feel one hundred percent better.
For me specifically, I connected to NFTY through music. I knew all the tunes at Sunday morning services, and every time I would go to services on Friday nights back when Sara was here, she would sing songs I had also heard at NFTY events. Hearing her voice would make me want to cry; she had such a way of relating to people through her voice. I wanted to be able to do that–make an impact on someone with my voice and bring emotion to services so I could create that connection that Sara helped create for me. So when starting my involvement in youth group (both SSTY and NFTY), I naturally wanted to start right off with being a song leader. Having people come up to me and tell me how much they appreciate services is such a great feeling, and, now that I’m leaving NFTY as a senior, I hope I have passed on that same urge to create a sense of belonging through music in another young song leader.
What am I confirming for the future? I don’t know if I will participate in Hillel in college, staff at NFTY events, or even end up working in a temple. Nothing is set in stone. But I do know that being Jewish is something I will always be and have with me when I need it. I know that being Jewish taught me a lot and made me who I am and it will be consistent in my life. It has allowed me to develop my own opinion on things and know that if it is different from others, that it’s okay. It has created connections for me and will continue to open doors for me in the future.
Connecting with my Judaism
Throughout high school, I’ve had a hard time connecting with my Judaism. For the first three years of high school, I dreaded almost anything Jewish; it just wasn’t something that I was interested in being involved in. Over the past year though, there have been many events that have helped me to connect with my Judaism on levels that I didn’t think were possible.
One event was the RAC trip in February of this year. I’m not going to lie, I was less than excited for this trip. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I didn’t have much knowledge about anything political. But this trip and what I had learned completely surprised me in a positive way. I learned about so many topics that I never knew about and formed an opinion on almost all of them. After that weekend, I decided that I wanted to work in politics after college. It was a great feeling to be so passionate about something because before then, I had less than no idea about what I wanted to do after college.
One of the biggest struggles throughout my life has been figuring out who I really am and what I want out of life. Honestly, I still am really not sure about these things, but one thing I am sure of is that I am Jewish. Today I am confirming that Judaism will always be a part of my life. I still have a lot to learn about myself and the world around me, but one thing that I have definitely learned is that doing things to help me connect with my Judaism, no matter how simple they might be, makes me genuinely happy. That is something I cannot say about many things. So, whether I end up being someone who goes to Shabbat services every Friday, or someone who only goes to temple on High Holidays, I will never forget about or give up on my Judaism.