At 51/2 years old, I experienced one of the hardest changes of my life. My family, which until then had resided in Haifa, Israel, moved to Baltimore. Living in Israel, Judaism was constantly a part of my life. Every Friday evening, my immediate family would accompany my saba and savtah (grandparents) to shul and later join them for Shabbat dinner, full of delicious food and traditional songs. Although I moved half way across the world, my Jewish identity and connection to Israel surprisingly grew stronger and stronger.
At age 6, I began kindergarten at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community Day School, where I was not only surrounded by Jewish kids my age, but also constantly exposed to Jud-aism, its traditions and culture. As I grew older and continued my Jewish education, I found a new home in the Baltimore Jewish community.
Within my family, tradition rem-ained a constant and important part of my life and my siblings’ lives. Having prioritized Judaism, my parents were thrilled when my brother decided to join the B’nai Brith Youth Organization, the world’s leading Jewish youth movement. Through BBYO, my brother gained leadership skills, serviced the community and, most importantly, made lifelong friends. Once my sister reached high school, she, too, joined and found herself flourishing in BBYO.
Exposed to the world of BBYO through my siblings’ involvement, as any younger sister would, I came to love this organization. I begged and pleaded with them to take me to events and fundraisers well before I was old enough to participate. Finally, once I began eighth grade, I was allowed to accompany my sister to programming and join the movement, which subsequently changed my life.
Now, as a rising junior, I have grown and benefited from BBYO, too. Baltimore BBYO has become like a second home to me; the members and staff are not only some of my closest friends, but also my greatest inspirations. Through this organization, I have become a stronger leader both in BBYO and within the Baltimore Jewish Community as a whole. Confidence gained and skills honed poured over into my school community, leading me to attend the AIPAC High School Summit and the Panim Institute as a delegate from Beth Tfiloh.
This past year, I served as Baltimore Council BBYO’s vice president in charge of Jewish Heritage, Social Action and Community Service. I spent the year teaching Jewish teens in Baltimore about Israel, Jewish holidays and the importance of tikun olam, giving back to our community. I planned Baltimore’s annual J-Serve, a national day of community service for Jewish teens, and coordinated a regional kallah, a convention highlighting the importance of social action and community service for 550 teens along the East Coast. This past June, I began my term as president of Baltimore Council BBYO and look forward to an exciting and meaningful term.
I never would have imagined that moving from Israel to the U.S. would lead to a heightened sense of Jew-ish identity. However, through my participation in the Baltimore Jewish Community, and BBYO specifically, I’ve gained a newfound love for Jewish heritage and community service and strive to find creative ways to introduce them to other Jewish teens in Baltimore.
Dana Goldenberg is president of the local BBYO chapter. She is a student at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.