My name is Britain Pilott and I am from Burlington, Kentucky.
At the age of five, my father passed away suddenly and the deaths of both my grandparents shortly followed. I never had the opportunity to have a bat mitzvah and until seven months ago, I had never attended a Passover Seder or sat in a sukkah; I didn’t even have a Hebrew name. My family and I have always been the only Jews in my community, and going to a public school for most of my life has put limitations on my knowledge of Judaism.
Last summer, my mom had the unbelievable opportunity to go on a Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project Israel mission trip for two weeks. For her, it was more than just a vacation; it was an opportunity to have a new way of life. Prior to the trip, my family was completely oblivious to what being a Jew entailed. This opportunity was almost as if the doors of Judaism were opened directly in front of her, and she dove in head-first.
Unfortunately, my mother broke her ankle in Israel, an injury that required two surgeries and countless months of physical therapy. She ended up with a metal rod in her ankle. Her injury also meant that she needed to stay an additional two weeks in Israel, leaving my three siblings and me alone at home.
The Jewish community in nearby Cincinnati was so eager and willing to help. They brought us home-cooked meals and they were there for us whenever we needed anyone. Late one weeknight, I opened my front door to a beautiful young woman holding a bag full of soups. This was something that was very foreign to me. I wasn’t used to people volunteering their time to help a complete stranger. Instantly, we hit it off. I noticed a logo on her shirt: “NCSY.” I asked her what it was. It’s safe to say that question changed my life. The lady who brought me soup, Leora Balk, is now my NCSY advisor and biggest role model.
In November 2014, I went on my first Shabbaton during winter break as part of NCSY’s Yarchei Kallah. Yarchei Kallah is the equivalent to a yeshiva for public school kids. Who could have known that I would spend my winter break studying Torah when a week before I didn’t know what Torah was? After my first taste of Torah, I couldn’t get enough. I spent any free time I had reading books and asking as many questions as I could fit on a sheet of paper. The first d’var Torah that I ever heard was from Rabbi Menachem Nissel who spoke about the hardships in Israel for the Jews living there. I have never been so motivated and inspired to do anything in my life. I immediately thought: “I just got here and I’m already hearing how people try to kill us simply because we are Jews. If other people are willing to die to have the right to be Jewish, I want to know why I should live as a Jew. I want to embrace my Judaism.”
Afterwards, whenever anything would happen in my life, good or bad, I started turning to Hashem. That same winter my friend committed suicide. I remember the anger I felt towards G-d and how I couldn’t ever understand what anyone did to deserve this. I saw my best friends being torn apart and I had hit rock bottom. I lost my best friend, but I gained faith. I turned that anger into my fuel for learning and turned my life around. At Spring Regional, I won my first award for Torah Growth from Leora Balk. That same weekend a ceremony took place just for me when I was given my Hebrew name. It took me any months to choose what I wanted my name to be but finally I decided on Esther Ariella. I chose Esther because she was a courageous woman who inspires me.
This past summer I was on one of the 25 NCSY busloads of teens in Israel. I was on TJJ bus 6 and it was incredible. I would highly suggest for all of you to go on an NCSY Summer Trip to Israel but you’re a tad too old, so I recommend sending your kids. I wish I had the proper words to describe just how amazing this trip was and how empowering it is to be in our homeland. I met two of my current best friends who constantly inspire me.
Four weeks ago I enrolled in the Columbus Torah Academy. The Columbus community has been incredible to me. Mrs. Cassel has welcomed me into her heart and home. Mrs. Savage has taught me to read Hebrew and so much more to help me catch up on 15 years of lost connection to my heritage. My classmates have embraced me as if I had been their lifelong friend. I’ve only been in CTA for a month and I am on the volleyball and basketball teams, and I ran for a student council position. I am also the Vice President of Outreach on my NCSY Chapter Board.
In NCSY we have a theme song:
“Searching for our answers in many different ways,
Trying to find direction meaningful today
Fighting for the emes (truth) always holding fast
Creating a future by learning from our past
Kesser Torah Region-Creating something real
D’veykus (connection) and Achdus (unity) are things we really feel
Growing together, learning how to choose
Kesser Torah Region….Proud that we are Jews!”
I have too many people to thank, but most of all I want to thank G-d for orchestrating my journey.
Have a happy and healthy new year.
This is the text of a speech Britain delivered at a Columbus NCSY fundraiser in September.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.