HOW I SPENT MY WINTER VACATION: EXPLORING MY JEWISH SOUL
By Batsheva Honig
Batsheva Honig is a sophomore at Walled Lake Northern High School in Michigan
So what’s a nice, Jewish, 16-year-old, public high school girl like me doing learning Torah for a week during my winter vacation? It’s simple. My mom made me go, and I will be grateful to her forever because it has changed how I see the world and my place in it. NCSY’s Yarchei Kallah made it possible for me to embrace Judaism in ways I had never experienced before, and it was awesome!
This was the very first NCSY | Jewish Youth Leadership event I had ever attended. My mom sold me on the idea by explaining that Yarchei Kallah was an extraordinary opportunity for me to meet other Jewish teens like myself. It was so much more than that. The true highlight of the trip was learning about Torah and Mesorah (Jewish traditions) in ways I never thought possible. I knew I wanted to learn more about Judaism, but until I attended Yarchei Kallah I never realized how much I had been missing out on.
The atmosphere was energized by the 200 teens that attended from across the country at the Stamford Hilton in Connecticut. It opened my eyes and mind to how wonderful it is to incorporate Judaism in your life on a daily basis. All week long we engaged in fun activities while also breaking out into group sessions where we delved into thought-provoking discussions about Jewish concepts and openly shared our personal insights. It made me want to learn and know more about Judaism and how it is relevant to me as a teenager and beyond.
Judaism never excited me until I attended this program. My favorite nightly session was led by Rabbi David Felsenthal, entitled Derech Hashem: Understanding the ways of God. He touched upon so many Jewish concepts that opened my heart. Our discussions made me more comfortable with Judaism, not only spiritually, but as a meaningful way of life. Being Jewish is no longer just a statement of my religious affiliation but is a proclamation of my inner being and way of life.
Yarchei Kallah also taught me about community and Jewish pride. I had never experienced an Shabbat with such intensity as I did during Shabbat in Teaneck, NJ. There was an abundance of camaraderie, positive energy and pure joy that went into every group song and dance we shared. I will never forget the beautiful Havdalah service when we all came together to bid farewell to Shabbat. It was a spiritually uplifting time, and I recall gazing around during the Havdalah service at all the smiling faces, and I thought to myself there was no other place I wanted to be at that moment. This was where I belonged. I was proud that I knew who I was and I was even prouder to see 200 other Jewish teens feeling the same way.
There are very few Jewish kids at the public school I attend in Michigan, so there are not many opportunities to connect with Judaism in that environment. Since Yarchei Kallah, I now say prayers each morning before I leave for school and I regularly wear my Star of David necklace to school. I have always been proud of being Jewish, but thanks to NCSY and Yarchei Kallah I have become more self aware and willing to accept a more Jewish perspective on life and incorporate it in my daily routine. It helped me better understand many things I was uncertain about or questioned about Judaism. Connecting with my Jewish heritage and tradition is very important to me, even more so since experiencing Yarchei Kallah, which provided me with many life lessons, not to mention many new friends, which I hope to carry with me always. Thanks to Yarchei Kallah, Judaism now plays a more prominent part in my life; spiritually, physically and emotionally.
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