Summer Programs Can Change Your Life (No, Really)

December 17, 2021
Ruthie Zeidman

Portland, Oregon, United States

Class of 2023

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Every member and prospect that listens has heard that BBYO will change your life, whether it’s from a fellow member, staff, or alumni. It’s true, BBYO does change your life. But how? The answer to this question became crystal clear to me this past summer when I attended International Leadership Training Conference and International Kallah at Perlman Camp in Lake Como, Pennsylvania. I signed up for full Perlman in the fall of 2020, but in the seven months before I was plagued by doubts and what-ifs. What if I didn’t make any friends? What if I was homesick? What if I learned nothing and came back to my chapter more unprepared than ever? Instead of letting these questions stop me, I packed my bags, said goodbye to my family, and flew to the east coast. The moment I walked into the meeting area at Newark Airport all the doubts came rushing back. I checked in and a lovely BBG from Central Region West walked up to me, introduced herself, and became my first Perlman friend. We started talking and it seemed like we would never stop. At this point, I realized that maybe I could do this. Maybe I could spend six weeks at an unfamiliar camp on the opposite coast with 200 people I had never met before.

Six weeks passed and I found myself taking one last selfie with the Perlman tree before running to get onto the bus that would take me back to the place where it all started. Leaving Perlman truly was like losing a best friend, and even four months later I still haven’t fully accepted that it’s over. I remember that during the bus ride to Newark, while rural Pennsylvania rushed by, I was thinking that this wasn’t real and that the next day I was going to wake up in my weirdly comfortable camp bed. When I got home I immediately saw how different I was. I noticed how I was more independent, more passionate, and most of all, more confident. I almost didn’t recognize the person I was, but it was in the best way possible. The growth I experienced was more potent than I realized. I don’t think I could’ve encountered anything like that anywhere else.

As International Convention slowly comes closer (less than four months!!), I am becoming especially reflective of my time at Perlman and all the things it taught me. I have three takeaways to share (although once you get me talking you’ll hear about a million more).

1. The world is so much bigger than little ol’ Portland, Oregon.

Meeting Alephs and BBGs from Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Russia, Czech Republic, Turkey, and more was one of my favorite parts of attending a summer program. Seeing Jewish teens just like me, knowing the same prayers, the same traditions, the same rituals, was a huge culture shock for me. I didn’t realize how small the Jewish community was, nor did I understand the full reach of BBYO. Meeting teens from all over the country and the world (!!) is one of the most magical parts of BBYO, and something I truly hope every member gets to experience. In addition, I found true beauty in how our different home cities, states, and countries all gave us wildly different backgrounds and perspectives, and yet similar values.

2. There is always more to learn.

I came to Perlman nervous, thinking everyone was better than me and more experienced. I left knowing that I taught my peers just as much as they taught me. I learned so much from both ILTC and Kallah, although the topics were different. At ILTC I learned how to plan incredible “WOW” programs, create welcoming environments for all teens, work cohesively with others, properly support someone throughout their BBYO journey, and immeasurably more. At Kallah I learned about different sects of Judaism and their traditions, how to create meaningful Jewish experiences, exploring Judaism with non-Jews, and much more. Although the staff was some of the most wonderful, supportive adults I’ve met, I found myself learning more from my peers than from anyone else. By the end of ILTC, I thought I knew it all, but then Kallah started and I realized there was always more to learn and explore.

3. Put yourself out there.

I know it sounds cliche, but it’s a huge skill you take away from summer programs. I came out of Perlman confident in being able to walk up to just about anyone and start a conversation. Of course, I experienced plenty of awkward moments, from introducing myself to someone that I had already met, or forgetting names, or tripping on air, but once I started to let those small things go, I was able to create much deeper relationships. The beauty of summer programs is the limited time you have to get to know the people around you. This pushes you to get to know others much faster and in a more meaningful way. Without putting yourself out there and introducing yourself, you’ll never be able to access those relationships. Take the BBG who came up to me at the airport for example. If she hadn’t put herself out there and talked to me, I probably would’ve been standing there awkwardly and without a hopefully life-long friend.

All in all, if you’re on the fence: GO. Challenge yourself! Take risks! Try new things! Have fun! Be yourself!

Change your life!

Ruthie Zeidman is a BBG from Portland, OR, and her passions include inclusivity, Judaism, writing, volunteering, listening to music, watching too many movies, and laughing (and BBYO of course).

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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