Matt is a 16-year-old from New York City, NY. He loves to be social and spend time with his friends, as well as being an active leader in his community. However, school also plays an important role in his life and he is motivated to achieve his dreams.
I used to believe that religion had no part in my life. I thought of it as a waste of time and not important towards my growing teenage experiences. However, recently I’ve discovered that embracing my religion has opened many doors for and has introduced me to a plethora of amazing experiences. I am a reform teenage Jew, and that fact has recently changed my life for the better.
For many teens, High School is an amazing experience. For others, it is a very hard four years. I can be found somewhere in the middle between the two. During freshmen and sophomore years, I completely neglected my Jewish teen identity–it was non-existent. I even stopped going to High Holiday services…which is a big deal! However, towards the end of this past summer, I realized that I wanted something more than what my high school could give me. In all honesty, I felt a little empty, and my school could not fill the gap.
Here I am now, April of 2011 and I have been having some of the greatest months in my life. I became extremely active in my Temple’s Youth Group (TYG), sharing my opinions and ideas, creating social programs, and being an overall leader. Since September, I have learned more about myself than I had in the previous two years of high school. Since I joined my TYG, I have met incredible teens and have participated in events that cater to the whole country and my area of New York.
Though it is ultimately up to the teen that decides whether religion will play an active role in his/her life, I do believe that parents should understand the benefits that being an active participant in religion brings.
I had a choice at the end of my 8th grade year to join my TYG. I declined, thinking that high school would be enough. I could not have been more wrong. My TYG, TaSTY, is a part of a greater organization which is made up of TYG’s across the country. NFTY, North American Federation of Temple Youth, has changed my life forever. This past February, I went to Convention, which was held in Dallas, Texas. To this day, I still communicate with some of the amazing teens I met there. In fact, I even call some of them my “best friends.”
As you can tell, my Jewish identity is prevalent is my life now. I no longer neglect it; I embrace it. I am running for my TYG’s Executive Vice President position next year because I feel as if it is a step closer in thanking TaSTY and NFTY for everything they have done for me.
Realizing my Jewish identity has brought me to places full of teens of every kind: jocks, band members, private school students, public school students and so many more. Though we all come from different backgrounds, grew up differently and live different lives, our common identity is our “glue.” It is our unbreakable binding force. The environment created by this glue is completely judgment free, stress free, drama free. It is a safe zone–for anyone who wants to be a part of it. To be honest, it is the only place where I feel like I can be my true self.
So, here are my pieces of advice:
Teens: don’t reject your identity like I did. Sure, you may not want to be as active as me, or may not even like being active in the religion. That’s completely fine. BUT, if your temple has a TYG, please try it out. Trust me, you will not regret it at all!
Parents: like I said before, it is ultimately up to the teen. But, please talk to your teen(s) about being active at Temple and being a part of a bigger cause and union.
I would not be the same person I am right now without Judaism. I realized how important it is to me relatively late. You don’t have to make the same mistake I did.
I am planning on continuing to explore my Jewish identity as I grow and learn. I hope you’ll join me!