YJ Teens It was my home. It was YJ.
By Jonny Jentis, National Mazkir 2023-2024
10 years. For 10 years, I spent my Havdalah circled around a singular candle, arms resting on the shoulders of my closest friends. For 10 years, I have learned and grown, discovering my Jewish identity and the world I live in. For 10 years, I have lived and breathed Young Judaea. As I stood at the center of Havdalah this year at National Convention, I began to realize my time as a teen in Young Judaea is coming to an end. Ever since 7-year-old Jonny sat on the basketball courts at Camp Sprout Lake, I have known Young Judaea to be my second home. As I continue to work at TY and watch the movement grow, I cannot help but feel grateful for all that I’ve been given.
National Convention wrapped up a few weeks ago and I cherished every second. As teens from across the country flew in for the weekend, hugs and exclamations filled the air. Teens from Washington, Texas, Chicago, Georgia, Pittsburgh, Israel, and many other places joined us in eastern Pennsylvania with nearly 100 teens in attendance, the largest National Convention in countless years. The YJ atmosphere fell into place immediately, with teens meeting and laughing through the night. A peaceful Kabbalat Shabbat was followed by hilarious Oneg to end the evening.
Throughout the weekend, peulot planned by the National Mazkirut created riveting discussions amongst the teens on what it means to be a Jew in the diaspora, how to examine the Israel-Palestine conflict without bias, and the effect of social media on global conflict. The broad perspectives brought by our teens never failed to blow me away as I led my discussion group. Conversations that should have taken 20 minutes continued into chofesh and beyond as teens beautifully expressed their unique perspectives. Getting to watch and participate in these discussions has always been a highlight of my YJ experience and I was thrilled to see how invested everyone became.
Further cementing our commitment to the National Initiative of Israel, our wonderful CEO Adina Frydman ran a touching activity discussing the current conflict, the hostage situation, the “Hostages on the Heart” campaign, and what we could do. All the teens at Convention wrote touching cards to the brave IDF soldiers serving in the conflict.
Convention could not have been complete without electing the next National Mazkirut during Asepha. Almost every election had highly contested runnings and candidates won by only a few votes. As the current National Mazkirut begins working on making the transition as smooth as possible, I am sure that the incoming group is going to be wonderful. I wait with anticipation to see the accomplishments they are able to boast throughout their terms.
As people left convention, there seemed to be a singular thought amongst participants: When’s the next one? Teens across the country have taken it upon themselves to work with us to create active groups in their communities. With events being planned in Georgia, Texas and LA, it seems that Young Judaea is only going to continue to grow. I, myself, am extremely excited for Midwest Convention to see all the hard work that they have been putting in over the past few months.
Before I end, I want to thank all of the people who made Convention possible. Firstly, everyone who came; Convention could not have possibly been as amazing as it was without everyone in attendance. The willingness to try new things, participate, and be happy created the atmosphere of YJ that I have come to know and love. Next I would like to thank Sara, Erica, Allegra, Amit, and all the other people who staffed convention and who worked so hard to make the weekend possible and who made sure the weekend ran smoothly. We wouldn’t have had a location, much less anything else that needed to happen without you all. Even though you may have given me the reins during the weekend, I couldn’t have done any of it without you. A special thanks to Allegra for giving me a Walkie-talkie; even though I didn’t use it much, it made me feel important. Lastly, I want to thank my National Mazkirut: Sari Goodman, Ilan Greenberg, Dora Stodolsky, Leo Wilchfort, and Noah Volkman. These teens ran convention with confidence and ruach that were one hundred times greater than I ever could have dreamed of. Their masterful planning, superb peulot, and boundless creativity and dedication are truly admirable and I could not be prouder of them.
Convention lived up to my dreams of what it would be. It was fun. It was thought-provoking. It was my home. It was YJ. When I looked out at everyone during shira shketa and Havdalah, the young faces of smiling eighth and ninth graders stared back with the same joy and enthusiasm I have had for 10 years. Though my YJ Teens journey is coming to a close after camp this summer, I know YJ is going to keep being YJ for generations to come. I am glad that I was able to experience this with everyone and I can’t wait for what the rest of this year, and years to come hold in store.