Editors’ Note: Welcome to the newest series on the blog called הקהילה שלי: My Community! Here, USYers will have the chance to tell the story of the time they realized that USY was their community- or their קהילה. Of course, we could only start with one person: International President Austin Kaufman. Strap in as he tells you how cymbals made him the person he is today.
I never thought cymbals would mean so much to me. No, I’m not talking about the cymbals on Ringo Starr’s drum kit, or the time I was selected to play the cymbals for a choir concert in 6th grade (which I rocked by the way), I am talking about none other than the “cymbals” USYers create with their hands during Al Kol Eleh.
It was a perfectly normal day in March of my eighth-grade year when my brother told me that the Far West SA/TO Dance-a-Thon he was planning as the Regional SA/TO Vice President was being opened up for eighth-graders to attend. After being involved in my chapter for a while and hearing all about USY from my brother (who I look up to like crazy), I went to a Junior USY Kinnus (what most people call Kadima) in February where I made my first regional friend, Tobey Lee. I would not quite say I was hooked yet because, like most people leading into their second event, I was super overwhelmed at this whole USY thing, but had a good enough time that I was excited to go see my friend in Los Angeles at his home synagogue.
March 26, 2016 came, and the Dance-a-Thon was off to a hectic start for me – I was meeting a bunch of my brother’s friends and sticking with Tobey. After a few hours, I walked into the bathroom to catch my breath and take a break – little did I know I was about to have the complete opposite experience in the best way possible. It all started with someone who was in one of the stalls breaking out into song and everyone else joining in immediately. Before I knew it, this shy kid (me, I know, it is hard to believe) was engulfed in the song of ten upperclassmen and picked up the tune and joined in. We ranged anywhere from One Day by Matisyahu to Ozi V’zimrat Yah to Allstar by Smash Mouth, but the song that stood out the most to me was Al Kol Eleh. I vividly remember locking eyes with the guy across from me who I would later meet (Nadav Kempinski – if you are reading this I love you and you are like a second older brother to me) and we became the cymbals of our a cappella rendition of this classic slowach tune. Once we wrapped up a ruach-filled 30 minutes in the boys’ bathroom, I had left with this group of 10 guys who would later become friends, mentors, and role models.
It was a moment of sheer beauty, and when I have reflected on my USY journey up until this point, this is unquestionably the moment when USY became הקהילה שלי – my community. The warmth that these people showed me was enough to help bring me out of my shell and led to a night of amazing conversations and bonding with new people. To me, this is what USY is truly about. It is not necessarily the program or the theme, the time or the place, but it is the people and the connections you can make with these people. It inspired me to run for Chapter Board and apply for RGB the following year so that I could help bring these moments of connection to people as frequently as possible. It eventually drove me to be a part of creating initiatives such as IConnect and the Find Your Sheep Challenge on the international scale to help people from across the continent have moments of connection and community-building. This single moment helped inspire my three Cs that drive everything I do in USY – connection, collaboration, and community – by helping me connect with others, working together to turn our many voices into one, and as an outcome creating a lifelong community – my community.
I could not possibly imagine who I would be today and what I would be doing right now if it weren’t for walking into the Temple Beth Am boys’ bathroom and a pair of cymbals.
Austin Kaufman is a Senior and proud member of CBI Tustin in Far West USY. He is currently serving as Far West Membership and Kadima Vice President, and International President of USY.