My Jewish Foundation
By Yonatan Gershon, Class of 2018, Dallas, TX
This Shabbat, October 31-November 1, 2014, Koach: the Conservative community at Rutgers Hillel is gathering the alumni of all Jewish youth groups, summer camps, and gap year programs for a nostalgic look back on those Jewish organizations that helped shape the Jewish students of Rutgers before college. I participated in all three: a youth group, a gap year and a camp. In high school, I participated in my local United Synagogue Youth chapter. Following senior year, I left America for nine months to be on the Nativ College Leadership Program in Israel. Finally, after landing back in America this summer, I spent nine weeks as a bunk counselor at Camp Ramah Darom in Georgia. These three organizations have shaped me and prepared me for the college experience here at Rutgers.
USY taught me to look at world issues from a Jewish perspective. The leadership positions I took in USY taught me how to gather people together for a common cause. I learned how to effectively plan programs for peers and how to work well with others. USY impacted my public speaking skills and confidence – an augmentation made apparent by my enthusiastic remarks in class and a recent leap over two rows of students in Lucy Stone Auditorium. I came out of USY with the skills needed to actively contribute to student-run organizations here on campus.
My year on Nativ was the best year of my life. In Israel, I studied at Hebrew University, lived in dorms and apartments, taught English in a high school, and traveled the country. Thus, I approached my first semester at Rutgers with ease. I had no problems adapting to the University’s academic climate, writing roommate agreements, tutoring my friends, and exploring campus (ok, the buses still aren’t perfect). I took a gap year because I wanted time for character growth before I went off to college. In Israel, I nurtured new passions for cooking, hiking, reading and singing. Nativ taught me to take control of my Jewish identity. Nativ taught me how to defend Israel on my college campus. Nativ taught me the power of ritual and song to unite the Jewish people and promote brotherhood between strangers. Come to the Nativ-style tisch after Hillel’s Shabbat dinner if you want a taste of the magic I experienced every week last year.
The primary purpose of my job at Ramah this summer was to help me slowly re-acclimate to American culture post-Nativ, but working there gave me so much more than just a community of my best friends from Nativ and a gaggle of Israelis to talk with in Hebrew. Working with bar mitzvah-aged children taught me empathy, patience, and perseverance. At camp they assigned me a special role as a medic for the campers. I gained experience planning better programs and activities than I had ever programmed before. Ramah taught me CPR, first aid, and what to do in life-or-death situations. At Ramah, I learned a great deal of responsibility and duty. After the sleepless two months that was my summer, I am ready to tackle any challenge that comes my way.
I am a more well-rounded individual because of my time spent in these Jewish organizations. These programs left me with a wealth of experiences and stories which guide me through my everyday life here at Rutgers. Fellow Jewish institution alumni, if you want to reminisce about the good ol’ days, or sing your heart out at a tisch or just hear the story behind my leap in Lucy Stone, join me at Hillel this Friday Night.
Want to join in the reminiscing? This Shabbat, October 31-November 1, 2014, is the Jewish Camp/Youth Group/Gap Year Reunion Shabbat with Rutgers Koach featuring special guest Yossi Garr, the Director of the Nativ College Leadership Program in Israel! This event has been generously sponsored by the National Ramah Commission. Visit the Facebook event page for more information.