I always thought that I had the “traditional” Jewish upbringing: preschool at the JCC, Hebrew School, Sleepaway camp, BBYO, and choosing a University with a thriving Hillel. Judaism has undoubtedly shaped my life and is a community that I am eager to give back to. I was fortunate enough to express and develop myself as a Jewish leader while gaining an amazing amount of religious development as a part of the Collegiate Leadership Internship Program (CLIP) cohort in New York City this past summer.
Walking into CLIP, I wasn't expecting it to radically change the way that I see Judaism and the world. In fact, I thought that being a part of the CLIP cohort was an underwhelming way to follow a summer with Onward Israel in Tel Aviv. I grew up Reform, participating in my fifth marketing internship at a Jewish nonprofit organization at the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), and was going to be in a professional development setting where I’d be with other Jewish college students. “What a breeze,” I told myself before the 10-week program began. I was wrong, and I have never been so relieved to be so off target.
The greatest takeaway that I have from this summer is the one that I never expected CLIP to give: a wealth of Judaic knowledge. When taking an internship, you expect to make connections, gain professional development skills, and take a few steps towards a career, but what you don’t expect is learning more about your religion than you did in 10 years of Hebrew School. You don’t take an internship at the URJ expecting to be the only Reform Jew out of the eight interns, but sometimes life is supposed to be productively uncomfortable in that way. You don’t realize everyday that you can be a part of the same tradition and history as someone else and still see it completely differently than they do. What makes CLIP so special is that it brings together the Jews who daven three times a day, the Jews who eat bacon, and the Jews who daven three times a day and eat bacon and allows them to have productive, meaningful conversations that promote tolerance among denominations and the importance of Jewish continuity.
Our first Friday together, I remember being asked about my “Shabbat plans”. I was thankful in that moment that my tradition of getting non-Kosher sushi with my two best friends on Friday nights had reigned as “Shabbat Sushi.” As the summer progressed and the CLIP cohort spent Monday nights, Fridays, and a Shabbaton experience together, I realized that as much as I was learning from my Orthodox counterparts on how they practice Judaism, they were learning about my way of being Jewish. Even some of those who seemed to know everything about Judaism still felt as confused and disconnected and had even more questions about it than I did. With pluralism comes 'Jewbarrassment' from all parties, but it also comes with more meaningful conversations and a more promising Jewish future.
Reform. Conservative. Orthodox. Reconstructionist. Culturally Jewish. Half Jewish. Jewish by choice. Jewish Atheist. There are so many ways to be Jewish, and even more ways to be a Jewish American Millennial: and that’s what makes Judaism so special. It truly is a culture, an ethnicity, a peoplehood, and of course, a religion; and this summer, I realized that however a person chooses to be Jewish is the right way to be Jewish. There is no “one size fits all” in Judaism, and there will always be a mountain of questions that surround it - no matter how you were raised or how you choose to practice. All I know is that I haven’t found the “perfect fit” of Judaism for my own life, and that I never would have been aware of that without CLIP.