Every year, BBYO hosts an event called International Convention. It is held to bring Jewish teens together to celebrate their Jewish heritage. International Convention brings in Jewish teens from across the globe and is always held in a different American city than the previous year. Teens who attend learn about a variety of topics, including Holocaust awareness, spirituality, and different Jewish traditions around the world. Most importantly, however, they learn that they are not alone.
Growing up, I felt excluded from my peers because I practiced a different religion. Whether I was the only Jew in my class or even my school, there was always that divide. I couldn’t express my excitement for Tu’Bishvat or Simchas Torah, because it wasn’t with the status quo. Others rarely acknowledged that I existed outside of Chanukkah, or possibly Passover and that was a slap in the face. Somehow, I was only worth mentioning for diversity points if my holidays landed on something more mainstream, like Christmas or Easter.
As a minority, I felt alone. I was outnumbered and isolated. As a Jewish teen, I felt different and othered, as though I had to hide when I left my house every morning. I felt alone for loving my religion the way I do. From celebrating each and every holiday to keeping kosher, there were times when I questioned if my commitment was worth fighting for. Maybe it would be easier to give up, to be quiet, to stop celebrating so loudly. But if those who came before me gave up, I would have nothing to fight for today.
I knew I was never going to give up, yet there were days where I couldn’t help but wish there were more people like me, somewhere out there. Little did I know, there were.
Last year I went to Dallas, Texas to celebrate not only my heritage but also what we are today. I was up before the sun, dew hadn’t even formed on the grass yet, and I was checking in through the airport security. It was like there was electricity in the air. As more and more IC attendees boarded the flight, we all shivered in anticipation. I was ready to see what the greater Jewish community had to offer. I was nervous to be so far from home but so excited for the adventure ahead.
When I walked into the convention center I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing. Kids my age, singing in a language I didn’t know, but I could recite every word. Everyone was dancing in circles and celebrating what a beautiful thing it was to be together. I couldn’t believe how I felt: whole.
An overwhelming feeling of home washed over me as I walked into opening ceremonies. I went to represent Canada. I ran in wearing red and white, looking around taking in the sight. Lights in every color I could think of flashed around me. Every seat was filled to the point where there were people standing on the sides. I had never seen such an all-encompassing group of people that were so welcoming. Jewish teens from every country I could think of and even ones I’d never even heard of surrounded me. It didn’t matter where you came from, what you looked like, or how religious you were. We were celebrating together. The only thing that mattered that night was that we were all together.
“Welcome to International Convention 2020!” boomed over the speakers. Over 5,000 teens shouted in response. Every country was called. One by one, we cheered on every country far and wide. The cheering grew with every name called. There was a sense of honor for Israel which I could tell because they had the loudest cheers. The unity we had at that moment was undeniable. We stood together in a way I had never experienced before. I no longer felt alone. I never wanted that moment to end. To see others who loved being Jewish the way I do. They encouraged me to embrace my love for our culture, our history.
I looked around and was at a loss for words. To say I was free was an understatement. I was overcome with a sense of freedom that I had never known before. As the formalities came to a close, the music was turned up so loud my teeth vibrated. The smell of sweat came in fumes off the crowd. As the beat dropped, we danced like we had never danced before. We were not afraid anymore. We were no longer alone—even if just for a week. The air was buzzing with an excitement I had never felt before. I was filled with hope.
Hailee is a BBG from Red River Region and is the editor of her school's literary magizine.
All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.
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