By Ethan Feuer, USY International President 2016
Mark Twain famously said, “I have never let schooling interfere with my education.” This quote has always been relevant for me as I’ve gotten the balancing act of school and extracurricular activities down to a science.
However; I have never felt more spiritually connected to the concept of experiential learning than on the evening of Tuesday, July 12th. I was spending time in Israel visiting USY Summer Experience trips when I was invited to a convening of the NOAM Olami leadership, USY’s sister organization across the Atlantic. They have chapters everywhere from the United Kingdom, Israel, Spain, France, to Australia, Germany, and Uganda.
I didn’t know what to expect. In addition to being curious, I was actually rather nervous to step so far out of my comfort zone into a gathering of dignified, experienced, and legitimately international Jewish educators (unlike USY, instead of a board NOAM is governed by high school and college-aged madrichim, Jewish educational leaders). But my worries disappeared the moment I walked through the door.
I stepped into the room and heard ubiquitous greetings in foreign accents and dialects. I sat down on the couch next to a British guy named Harry who I’d met earlier in the trip at the Kotel. Although I was welcomed cordially, I still felt like a fish out of water. They were all wearing their traditional green NOAM garb while I spotted my grey Binghamton University T-shirt. We were about to get started when NOAM’s trip coordinator walked in. I shot up like a firecracker and held out my hand to introduce myself and thank her for this wonderful opportunity. She said her name was Reut, and dug into her bag searching for something. To my surprise, she pulled out and handed me one of the green shirts that everyone was wearing and said with an inviting smile, “Welcome to NOAM.”
My experience in Israel inspired and educated me about the true potential of global interconnectivity. USY and NOAM Olami should be acting as one. We share principles, traditions, and energy; we are parallel movements. Both movements strive to create a network of Jewish teen leaders. Both provide opportunities for social action and gimmilut chasadim, or acts of lovingkindness. Both help develop Conservative/Masorti Jewish identity. Both movements are safe spaces where Jewish teens can express themselves freely and never feel out of place.
But most importantly, both USY and NOAM Olami are run by young adults and programmed for young adults! With all the parallels between the movements, it’s a beautiful and inspiring thought that Jewish teens all over are ensuring a strong Jewish future and changing the world, one relationship at a time.
Now here is the game changer. USY and NOAM Olami are connecting like never before, and it’s all youth led. The first attempt at a greater connection involves pairing USY regions to NOAM countries. USY General Board Member, Dani Goodman (Far West) is working with Hannah Weiss, USY International Social Action/Tikun Olam Vice President, on this tremendous initiative that will break barriers in the Jewish youth network. And this partnership is only the beginning!
NOAM is also coming to USY’s 66th International Convention in Dallas, Texas. We are planning to have one or two representatives from each NOAM region around the world participating in our program. Could you imagine having fifteen international flags flying high during opening session at IC? What a sight that will be.
The best part is, these ideas are the merely the beginning. There is a whole world of possibility out there that before this summer I did not know existed. Together as one, the Jewish teens of USY and NOAM Olami learn lessons everywhere. We are inspired by everything. And most of all, we have the will to revolutionize the future of Judaism for the better. So now it’s up to us.
The question is:
I cannot wait to find out.