Today is August 24, 2019 -
by Lauren Kirk, President of USY
During the weekend of April 7th at Spring Kallah, BILU USY was awarded the chapter of the year for Emtza region USY. This was awarded to BILU on a number of criteria, such as total membership, percentage of membership attendance at events, program quantity and quality, social action and tikkun olam donations, and regional involvement. We had to submit program explanations, which were evaluated by the Regional Executive Board in order to be considered for the award. Being recognized for our work feels great, but everybody in
BILU knows that it has been a long time coming.
Four years ago, I was very intimidated when I walked into my first USY event. I knew the USYers as my tutors in BESTT and Junior Congregation and as the leaders of the programs at the Shabbatons. However, I walked into a small group of people who all knew each other and was worried I would not find my place. Luckily, I had a strong group of classmates by my side. While we had fun at chapter events, regionally we were kind of a joke. At Kinnus in 2015, everyone was saying “BILU Scares Me,” because members of BILU only talked to each other and we didn’t have much of a regional leadership presence.
During my sophomore year, Amanda Simon and I ran for a board position together because we wanted to be board members but we lacked the confidence to do anything independently. We were BILU USY’s first Communications Duo! Being on the board allowed me to voice my opinions about the running of the chapter and gave me an opportunity to plan my first program, Cutthroat Kitchen. This was not my assigned program, but after the original planner didn’t follow through, it fell in my lap. Not only did I learn that I was a creative and organized program planner, but I realized that we could not always expect somebody else to do things; I needed to take initiatives and make things happen on my own. At this time, I started to understand my role in USY and in the Beth El community. My friends and I were now the USYers we used to look up to. This epiphany came with a lot of responsibility and really turned our chapter around.
Things started to really come together in my junior year, when Emily Kutler and I were co-presidents and Zach Krausman was the vice- president. Emily and I were so excited to co-chair the first convention hosted in Omaha in four years! We were having weekly programs with consistent attendance and our performance of Shabbroadway helped us become a noticeable force in the Beth El congregation. We finally were coming out of the shadow of the Purim carnival and the congregation saw what USYers were capable of. At this point, BILU was on an upward climb until we realized that over half of our chapter, and our leaders would be graduating in a year.
We walked into our senior year with new goals. We were no longer worrying about getting people to programs or planning fun activities. We knew we could do all of that, we were worrying about how to make sure these things would still happen when we left. We focused on including Kadima members in our USY programs and electing freshmen to the board. Ethan Finkelstein has been serving as co-president with me and has been doing a great job! While I’m sad to leave this chapter behind, I know that it is the younger kids’ turn to lead and that they will do a great job!
This award is a great accomplishment for our USY chapter. After working hard to improve the quality of our programming to help sustain our membership, this achievement was a huge pat on the back. This year, we have had many successful programs, such as Dia De Los Muertos, where we learned about Jewish customs surrounding death, and Love Connection, where we learned about consent and relationships. Both won awards for best program in the SATO and the education category at Spring Kallah. Other successful programs we had were a viewing and discussion of The Hate U Give with teens from the Boys and Girls Clubs and the Omaha Police Department, and the Stomach Ache lounge night, which both attracted large crowds and allowed members of our chapter to learn something new and have fun. We have 30 paying members of USY and we regularly have 25 members at our programs – a big change from the 8 members who came to each program when I was a freshman.
The wonderful thing about youth groups is that they are teen-led, but I know that we didn’t do it alone. I am so lucky that my USY friends are some of my best friends and will always be there for me even when we are hundreds of miles away next year. Emily, Amanda, Zach, Josh, Hannah, Ethan and Tristan have played such an important role in this chapter and in our growth. We have a rabbi and a hazzan who always make themselves and their homes available to us. We have Eadie. She makes us proud to be Jewish and is always encouraging. Whenever we walk into Beth El, she treats us like rockstars and gives us the freedom to believe that our ideas are good and the support needed to make them a reality. Finally, we have Amy BILU. You can already see her dedication to the chapter considering she changed her last name to BILU. Her hard work has made BILU a safe haven for so many of our members and has helped us to reach the heights we have today. She always makes herself available to us for everything we need, USY related or not. She even likes to come and support us at our important events like show choir competitions and musicals. She truly has made BILU a family, and we will be forever grateful for that.