The Two Reform Jewish Programs That Changed My Life

Inside Leadership

The Two Reform Jewish Programs That Changed My Life

Dana Gershon and Rabbi Jonah Pesner take a selfie with 255 Jewish teens at the Northeast Leadership Summit

If I were asked one year ago today how to make a difference in this world, I would have gone on about all the big actions I’d have to take, how much work I’d have to do by myself, and how many tireless years of work it would take.

If you were to ask me again today how to make a difference in the world, I would tell you that little actions can have huge impacts, that I can and must rely on others to help me, and that the changes I make can be immediately successful.

The inspiration behind this shift in how I see the world – and my role in improving it – was participating in two life-changing programs during the last year. September’s Dana Gershon and Rabbi Jonah Pesner Northeast Leadership Summit and this summer’s URJ Eisner Camp Machon program were perfect complements to one another. Both have made me a better leader, strengthened my Jewish identity, and shaped my view of the world.

The Northeast Leadership Summit is one of the cornerstones of the Northeast Teen Collective, which empowers highly engaged teens to create meaningful Jewish experiences that will capture the interest of their less-involved peers. The weekend-long event culminates in a “shark tank”-style program, where teens pitch their ideas for changing the world; judges invest real money to help them launch their initiatives. Augmenting their experience, the Machon Summer Leadership Institute at URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camps is a 7 ½-week intensive, values-based leadership development internship for rising high school seniors who want to engage in their own growth in a Jewish context.

Together, these two programs have changed my life for the better, and I believe everybody should have the opportunity to experience both.

When I was nominated for the Northeast Leadership Summit last fall, I signed up immediately – not because I knew how many valuable lessons I would learn or because I understood how well it would complement the Machon program, but because I wanted to hang out with my camp friends. I quickly realized, though, that the Summit was much more powerful than I ever could have imagined. Through important programming, we learned not just how to be a good leader, but why it was important for a new wave of Jewish leadership to emerge from my generation to make our world a better one for future generations.

I learned that I could make a change. I learned that I was needed to make a change. And I learned, above all, that I wanted to make a change.

The culmination of the Leadership Summit was, for me, the most impactful and lasting experience. In groups, we created real plans to use the skills and ideas we built throughout the weekend to take action and actually change something in the world. My group planned to found Feed a Need, an organization that would facilitate donations by customers at restaurants in major cities to help pay for the meals of people who could not buy their own.

The Leadership Summit broke down many of my misconceptions and gave me confidence in my ability to spark a change – but I still didn’t have the rich understanding of leadership and change-making I have today. For example, in September, I still believed we would have to launch an expensive, multi-city campaign to make a dent in the number of hungry Americans.

This summer, though, I not only learned but truly internalized that small actions can have big effects. In the Machon program, as we studied acts of kindness, I began to see when it comes to improving the world, all improvements make an impact. As we studied thankfulness, I realized that even if I can only feed 10 people, those 10 people will be so thankful that it is absolutely worth my time. Finally, as I began my time as a URJ Eisner Camp counselor this summer, I saw the power that I have in shaping the minds of young children. The campers I worked with looked to me for a better understanding of the world – and I now realize that they can be the ones to join me on my journey to repair our world.

From my amazing experiences in these two programs, I know I can make a change. I know I can launch Feed a Need and begin feeding hungry families. I know I can have an immediate impact on many lives. And above all, I know I can help raise and shape an amazing group of campers to rise up and join me on my mission to make our world a better place.

As I embark on my final year of high school, with the values of the Leadership Summit and Machon in my pocket, I am confident in my ability to be the leader I have always aspired to be, to go out into the world, and to make a difference.

Adam Hurwitz from Newton, MA, was a URJ Eisner Camp Machon participant this summer. Adam originally gave this speech at a URJ summer reception in Lenox, MA.

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