|Ej Weiss volunteers with an new Ethiopian immigrant during Community Week. (photo credit: Sam Maller)|
For me, the Israel summer seminar was full of learning. Not traditional classroom style learning, rather learning about myself. I discovered my style of leadership, what I excel at, what I need to work on, and where my limits are. I had the opportunity to be leader of the day on the first day that our cohort, San Francisco, merged with our partnership, Upper Galilee. This day enabled me to help lead not only twenty, but forty teens. The job was tiring, but it was also incredibly rewarding. The simple act of getting all forty teenagers to stand and pose for a photograph became a test of leadership. How could I quiet the rowdy group? How could I get everyone to cooperate in a timely manner? I was dealing with so many challenges, yet somehow I managed to succeed in both the smaller and larger goals of the day. I came to realize that I have a strong voice as a leader. People listen to me when I speak confidently. When I communicate and I am flexible, I can even deal with forty teens, speaking two different languages, from different sides of the earth.
I further discovered at congress, that while I may not always be the most knowledgeable about everything, my ability to speak articulately is useful in communicating my ideas. I was able to persuade my peers while participating in heated debate. The feedback from others taught me an immense amount about what I do that is effective as a leader. When working with the Israelis in community week, I got the chance to put all of my newfound skills to the test. I was able to work well with my Israeli counterparts. We were able to teach history lessons, keep the group quiet, and help everyone have fun. Along the way, I realized that I conquered my fears. When I feared playing paintball, I was the first one to shoot the gun. When I was scared to swim to the waterfall, I would grab my friends’ hands and race them to it. I grew stronger and learned to push the boundaries of what I thought I was capable of accomplishing.
Volunteering at an absorption center with young Ethiopian refugees ended the trip in the perfect way. I began to find myself hating the phrase “community service”. Spending a day playing with kids: running around and laughing, was not service, it was pure fun. There is a notion that comes with community service that it needs to be hard work; it is not thought of as being something fun. I realized that making a difference in the world can be fun. I want to live my life using the quote: “it is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either” (Pirkei Avot 2:16). I have learned that I have the ability to change the world. If I follow my heart and find what I am passionate for, and dedicate myself to the cause, I will make a difference. The Israel Summer Seminar helped me find myself and inspired me to stand up and take action.