Reflections from Recent Confirmands
Erev Shabbat Memorial Day weekend found me seated in the 115-year-old sanctuary of my home synagogue Congregation Shaarai Shomayim in Lancaster, PA, for our confirmation service. Unlike other Reform confirmations, ours marks a conclusion of our students’ religious education from pre-school through twelfth grade.
Several years ago, our rabbi, Jack Paskoff, proposed changing Confirmation from tenth to twelfth grades. In all honesty, I was a ‘traditional’ hold-out. “Reform Jews are confirmed in tenth grade!” I whined. But, as often is the case, Jack was absolutely on target. Today, tenth grade marks a rather insignificant milestone in our kids’ educational pursuits while twelfth grade usually denotes an ending and some sort of beginning.
Let me add that we had thirteen confirmands (the original class numbered seventeen) from a congregation of approximately 350 family units. In Lancaster, a mid-sized town in central Pennsylvania, we have far less attrition than in metropolitan areas because the kids need each other and a keen sense of Jewish community, because our congregation nurtures and significantly focuses on cultivating Judaism in our kids through support of many activities, and because Jack is a most incredible rabbi/role model who builds relationships with all kids over many years.
Throughout the confirmation service, the teens shared personal reflections to a few posed questions. If ever there was a doubt about the influence of communities, congregations, NFTY and our camps, and our clergy, their comments testified to the impact positive Jewish experiences, especially NFTY, camps and role models.
Allow me to share a few quotes from their presentations:
Going to Camp Harlam, performing my bat mitzvah, working with NFTY and all the other Jewish experiences I have been a part of in the past eighteen years have all led me to this point: the true beginning of my Jewish life.
I have had so many Jewish milestones in my life. The two that were most prevalent in my life were Camp Harlam, which I have been attending for ten years, and NFTY-PAR. Camp Harlam gave me a strong Jewish identity at the age of eight years old….I do not know if I would have been so proud of my Judaism if it were not for camp…Besides providing me with great leadership opportunities, it [NFTY-PAR] gave me another chance to be actively involved with Jewish teenagers…I have learned so much about myself through the programs and activities.
The RAC trip, however, was real life. It was the first time I was proud to be an American Reform Jew.
Camp got me back into my Jewish lifestyle through music.
Thanks to the incredible Temple members who have gone above and beyond their involvement and commitment to the youth education program, I was inspired and motivated to increase my own involvement. It is because of these positive role models that I have come this far…
One experience I remember that elevated my understanding of Judaism beyond the classroom learning when I joined my family at the Temple’s Crispus Attucks holiday event where we prepared and served a Christmas meal to the homeless. While prior to that point I had done my fair share of school based community service, it was the impact of being among my Jewish congregation, serving less fortunate people but asking nothing in return that I learned the mean of Tzedakah.
This past summer I was part of a CIT program at Camp Harlam. The age group that I spent most of my time with ranged from infancy to six years old. During y time with the children, my favorite activity by far was nap time….During nap time, I was given the chance to have a quiet space to reflect and think. It was during t his time that I believe that I truly found out who I am and who I want to be. As it turned out, staying awake at nap time was better for me than sleeping.
I’d also like to take time to thank our Temple’s Sisterhood and Brotherhood for supporting Jewish growth in our Congregation’s youth, you all have given me many opportunities that I otherwise would have missed out on.
Throughout high school I believed that if I were to attend a NFTY weekend that I wouldn’t enjoy it and I would be extremely uncomfortable. However, upon attending a L’Taken Social Justice Seminar with the Religious Action Center in Washington with several hundred other Jewish teens, I proved myself wrong…Looking back at my weekend in Washington, DC, I regret not immersing myself in NFTY activities.
I realize I am prejudiced about our Lancaster kids. I think they are quite special and have thoughtfully decided to accept Jewish adulthood for themselves. Regardless where their lives take them, their Jewish souls, resulting from intentional Jewish experiences during childhood and teen years, will always soar.