On June 24th, 2007, I embarked on a journey known as USY on Wheels, a 6½-week cross-country teen tour. USY stands for United Synagogue Youth, an international Jewish organization. I had no idea what the outcome of this experience would be, if I would meet new people, or if I would get anything out of this trip. I soon found out that it was well worth it. I discovered, and still believe today, that religious involvement can strengthen and create one’s values. With 44 kids this summer, I took a risk like no other, and learned a lot about myself.
I can just see it now: I opened my eyes one morning in July, only to find that it was 4:00am, Pacific time in Arizona. I then got together my hat, sunglasses and water, while not forgetting my Siddur, the Jewish prayer book, of course. The 50 of us then headed off to the spectacular Grand Canyon. When we reached our destination, my eyes gazed out towards the horizon. I could feel the cold breeze gently brushing by me. Then came the moment of truth: gleaming specks of yellow slowly emerging from behind a large slab of rock. Then came my moment of truth: reading Torah at the site. Wow, what an experience! This was just another day of USY on Wheels.
What made me become so involved with Judaism was knowing that I could have experiences such as this one. Although I know several teens belonging to my temple who lost their religious identity right after their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs because they didn’t want the commitment, I feel differently about things. They believe that they’re getting the “easy way out”, or not having to do anything concerning their Jewish identities ever again. From not taking such a path, I learned some very essential values that have led me through life, for example, to keep my friends close.
USY has done so much for me socially. I have made so many friends from all over the country that I know will last a lifetime. Traveling to so many places in the U.S. with these amazing people made me realize the importance of having close friends that can relate to you religiously. I can still hear them singing ruach, or Hebrew spirit songs, on that bus every week with an immense amount of pride. Having such great friends with common interestsboth religiously and spiritually can influence how much of a commitment you make with your religion. Even just in my region, New England Region USY, having several Jewish friends who are involved in it makes me want to attend more USY events, and further explore my “inner Jew”.
The organization isn’t the only aspect of my participation motivating me to continue to be religiously involved. I don’t have to be crossing state lines to feel more devoted to Judaism. My local temple has an extremely close Jewish community, which is a motivator for me to become more involved with services in ways such as reading Torah, which is a worthwile experience for me. I have developed, over time, a few basic yet vital lessons, such as that practice makes perfect, and that if you set your mind to achieving something, then you are bound to achieve it one way or another.
Although I’m on my temple youth chapter board, I have many friends who are still involved religiously who aren’t on a board. Whether they participate in services several times during the year or attend USY events, what motivates them to do these things are the people all around them. Teens become involved within their religions because of spiritual motivation, and not because they randomly “feel like it,” or because their parents make them do it. Such motivation inspires us to become more religiously involved, and then we figure out for ourselves how that has affected our lives permanently. As for me, it has changed my identity. I believe that I have become a better person through experiences such as USY on Wheels. I plan continue on with my religious involvement in the future as much as I have done now, if not more than I’ve done.
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