When my family first joined Temple Beth El in 2011, I was shy, apprehensive, and an overall introvert. Beginning religious school in the middle of the year, along with a new elementary school, was a difficult adjustment for me. I remember having a hard time making friends and becoming accustomed to life in Charlotte. Fast forward 8 years, I can’t imagine spending my free time anywhere but Shalom Park.
After a first summer in Charlotte, at Camp Mindy, my parents decided it was time for me to go away to sleepaway camp. We started looking at brochures and websites for different Jewish camps around the area and finally narrowed it down to URJ Camp Coleman. Something was drawing me to Camp Coleman. At the time, I had no idea what it was, but now I understand that Coleman would bring me to my biggest passions and achievements.
My first summer at URJ Camp Coleman was filled with anxiety. It was my first time away from my parents for an extended period of time and I had trouble warming up to people. By the end of the summer, I still had not yet broken out of my comfort zone. That happened years later. I kept returning, and throughout my summers at Coleman, and my Sundays at TBERS, I slowly became more outgoing and energetic, and I started to find myself as a Jew.
Five years after arriving in Charlotte, in 2016, during Sheva, I was introduced to “Hatikvah,” a word I only knew as the Israeli National Anthem.
But my teachers and camp friends were talking about a different Hatikvah here: Hatikvah Kallah, to be exact. A weekend-long event with other Jewish kids throughout North Carolina, Georgia, and other parts of the southeast.
I was reluctant to attend a weekend in a different city with people I didn’t know. I felt as if all my progress in breaking out of my shell would all disappear. I had no idea what to expect, and I didn’t fully understand what was being asked of me. What is NFTY? Who are all these people? Where even is Atlanta?
A few weeks later, I heard the word again – Hatikvah. This time the word was coming from my mom. She informed me that she signed me up for Hatikvah Kallah without telling me. When I tried to get out of it, my mom convinced me this weekend would be just like Coleman. Same people, same community.
I wasn’t too thrilled with my first NFTY event. It was not what I expected. Temple Kol Emeth in Atlanta was not exactly the spitting image of the Cleveland mountains, where Camp Coleman is located, and many of my best summer friends didn’t attend the weekend. Yet, I returned the following year.
The next year in 8th grade, I started Hebrew High and learned that being Jewish is not just sitting in a classroom – it’s so much more than that. Judaism is about community, it’s about helping others, it’s about kindness, respect, morality, and self-love. It is about the relationships you make and the actions you take. That same year, I returned to NFTY and brought my newfound understanding of Judaism with me.
That April, I attended NFTY-SAR Spring Kallah – the event that made me fall in love with NFTY. Every Spring Kallah, the senior class talks about what NFTY means to them, as their last words to the community. One senior talked about how NFTY provided him with his closest friends – even the participants he never interacted with, he could trust. He took this moment to, for the first time, come out as gay. This was the moment I realized how special this community is, and how desperately I wanted to stay a part of it.
In the spur of the moment, I ran for Temple Beth El’s senior youth group (and a part of NFTY-SAR) LIBERTY Member at Large. And I won.
I had only attended a few LIBERTY events, and less NFTY events – I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. Did I really want to serve on LIBERTY board? What if I couldn’t benefit my community like I think I could? I was determined to give back to the community I had grown to love and appreciate.
I continued to attend Camp Coleman over the summers, and every NFTY and LIBERTY event there was.
The following spring, I was finishing my freshman year at Providence High School. I also decided to run for LIBERTY Communications Vice President. And I won. The same thoughts ran through my head as the last election – what if I’m not good enough? What if I let everyone down? What if I’m not cut out for leadership? Once again, I was determined to try my best and help make LIBERTY the best.
Just like I fell in love with NFTY, I fell in love with my position. Communications, I soon realized, is my passion. The joy of creating flyers, taking pictures of my friends, and making sure people knew about LIBERTY was my passion.
But I wanted to do more.
This past Fall, I started the NFTY-SAR elections process. I created my platform sheet, wrote a speech, and ran for NFTY-SAR Communications Vice President. And I won.
The amount of warmth that NFTY brings me is unlike anything else I have ever experienced, and I can honestly say that NFTY, camp, and TBE have brought me out of my shell. I am now an outgoing, sociable, extrovert. I could not imagine my life without everything Temple Beth El has led me to.
Sydney Abeshaus is the current LIBERTY President, as well as the NFTY-SAR Regional Communications Vice President-Elect.