By Aaron Jacobs
As a USY alumnus, I owe a lot to this organization; life-long friends, a special connection to my Jewish heritage, and so many great memories I could write a book. But to my surprise the biggest debt I owe to USY came years later, after I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a television writer.
Currently I am part of the writing staff on Disney Channel’s Girl Meets World, a spin-off to the 90’s family sitcom, Boy Meets World. Girl follows Riley Matthews and her friends as they attempt to survive high school while discovering what lessons life has to teach them.
One of my favorite parts of the job is brainstorming episode ideas. We do this by applying our own experiences to the characters in the show. I was lucky enough to earn my first writing credit when I shared a story from an experience I had in USY.
During the summer of 2014, as the group leader of USY on Wheels, Mission: Mitzvah, a cross-country trip that combines travel and social action, I really wanted to embrace the program’s name so I challenged participants with different “missions” each week. Our first one took place at the Omaha Zoo, where each USYer was given an envelope with different denominations of money and a single instruction: use the tzedakah toward a random act of kindness. The “how” was open to their interpretation.
The Wheelniks came back with some astonishing results. Three USYers pooled money together to buy a stuffed animal for a little boy. Another tipped a hotel employee, just for being a good person.
Later that week we participated in our first volunteer project at the Anchor Center for Blind Children in Denver, Colorado where USYers were asked to stain a wood fence surrounding the property. We worked all day on this task, even though the recipients literally would not see the fruits of our labor.
These two experiences started a conversation about how we should give our time and money. The exercise taught us a valuable lesson: to do good deeds unconditionally, without the expectation of recognition in return, a mindset we adopted as we dedicated our summer to doing mitzvot, giving charity, and helping others.
The other writers liked this story so much that we turned it into an episode called “Girl Meets Money”, which aired last January. The episode doesn’t directly feature the experiment from Wheels, but my story sparked the theme of charity found throughout.
So you never know how USY can affect your life, even once you’ve left it. For me, USY will always be a part of who I am and I’m glad that I could share that special part of me with the world.
Watch “Girl Meets Money,” which is currently streaming on Netflix, along with the entire second season of Girl Meets World.
Aaron Jacobs, native cowboy, originally hails from the wild city of Dallas, Texas. He was an active member in the Southwest Region of USY serving as Regional President and then International USY President in 2007. Aaron is an alumnus of both USY on Wheels and USY Israel Pilgrimage/Poland Seminar and has staffed over half a dozen USY summer programs. He spent his freshman year studying abroad on Nativ: The College Leadership Program in Israel, and then graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in Film Production and Judaic Studies. After college, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a television writer. His most recent credits include Disney Channel’s Girl Meets World, which began production on its third season in early 2016.