By Leah Lerner, JTConnect at FVJC
If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said that my religious background did not play a key role in my life. Sure, I loved over-the-top b’nai mitzvot and a good bagel spread as much as the next girl, but I admittedly lacked a significant, meaningful connection with Judaism. That was, until I learned of this program only beginning to blossom at FVJC – a youth group that entails learning about Jewish religion and culture, while also bonding and serving the community with teens of a similar background. You guessed it, this program is JTConnect.
Through JTConnect, I learned so much more about Judaism in the ways that resonated most with me; from hands-on kabbalistic art to Middle Eastern strife behind hummus, my experience over the past few years has been anything but dull. Nowhere else would you be able to find some students passionately discussing Jewish mysticism in one room, while other students are doing yoga in the next. This freedom that JTConnect offers – to take agency over my learning – has allowed me to form a connection with Judaism on my own level, and must not be taken for granted. Because of these classes, as well as the community service we’ve done together, I’m walking away from this incredible program with a love for Judaism, understanding of my background, and a group of friends and mentors who mean so much to me.
Armed with this newfound appreciation for my religion, I’ve also had invaluable Jewish experiences outside of JTConnect, many of which are thanks to Eric. Travelling to Israel last summer, taking literature classes at the Jewish Book Center, and attending the Schusterman Advocacy High School Summit – a program that trains teens to be ambassadors for Israel – have all been so impactful to my growth as a Jew and a Zionist. As I move on to the next phase of my life at UPenn, I feel well equipped to engage with Judaism on campus and to be a voice for the oppressed, tackling anti-Semitism whenever it arises. Though I’ve broadened my horizons in terms of Jewish activities, the very root of my interests and passions can always be traced back to JTConnect. As a result of my experiences with this program, I look forward to being an active Hillel member, studying abroad in Israel, and centering my career path around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. JTConnect has provided me with everything from lighthearted fun to inspiration for my future in the field of conflict resolution, and for these gifts I am eternally grateful.