Always a bridesmaid, never a bride no longer applies to Marlboro Jewish Center’s USY. After winning numerous awards over the past decade, including best chapter in United Synagogue Youth’s Hagalil region, which covers New Jersey, the teen members and their adult advisers have captured the biggest prize of all — International USY Chapter of the Year.
The award, presented in mid-November at Hagalil’s fall convention, recognized the youth group for “overall excellence, diversity, creativity, and value of programming,” said Rabbi David Levy, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s senior director of teen learning. The presentation took place at Temple Beth O’r Beth Torah in Clark.
“I really feel like we won an Oscar,” said Lori Solomon, MJC’s youth director for the past 14 years. Noting that the award covers the period from September 2015 to June 2016, Solomon said, “This is the highest honor a USY chapter can receive.” It also comes at a critical juncture for her, as she will be retiring in January and moving to Sarasota, Fla.
“I am thrilled for our teens, who worked hard for this award,” said MJC’s Rabbi Michael Pont. “The chapter’s leaders are amazing young people who truly enhance Jewish life at our synagogue and beyond. As the rabbi I am so proud and feel blessed to work with such remarkable youth.”
When Levy announced the result at the convention, about a dozen teen members of the MJC chapter, known as MUSY, converged in an exuberant group hug. Two key officers, Hannah Eiger, president during the contest period, and Cory Fox, the current president, clung to each other and cried tears of joy.
Hannah, 16, and a junior in the Contemporary Global Issues program at Freehold Township High School, said her involvement with USY continues a long family legacy. Her mother Rhonda and older sister Danielle were active members of USY in their teens, and Danielle was MUSY chapter president in 2012-13. Hannah’s twin brother Josh is the former Social Action Tikun Olam (SA/TO) vice president of the chapter.
“USY has been the biggest Jewish influence in my life,” said Hannah. “It has given me my connection to Judaism, my connection to Israel, my best friends, and an incomparable community to call home.”
Cory, a junior at Marlboro High School, similarly discovered a second “home” in MUSY. “Entering my freshman year, I went with USY on Wheels East, a four-week road trip up and down the East Coast. I was enlightened. I finally understood…the value of having a strong Jewish identity in the modern day.”
The next two summers, Cory participated in other USY summer programs, including one to Eastern Europe and Israel, during which, he said, he learned about the history of the Jewish people before, during, and after the Holocaust, including the creation of the State of Israel. “It was an amazing experience,” he said, “and it prompted my desire to take classes about Jewish history and Judaism in the modern day once I enter college.”
Asked what was special about MUSY in 2015-16 that led to its taking best chapter honors, Cory said, “We have weekly events, an attendance of 30 or more at many of our events, and a huge gym (at MJC’s auxiliary Chai Building) where we are able to play games and accommodate our large attendance.
“We also ensure that programs model principles of the Conservative movement in the 21st century,” he said. “Social action, tikun olam, Israel advocacy, and a love of simply being Jewish are priorities at MUSY.”
“The feeling of community created by every member in MUSY is really what made the winning year special,” Hannah added. “We created a comfortable space where all members could be themselves.”
What she thought ultimately clinched it, she said, was the group’s first-ever overnight program. “We had more than 50 people come, including representatives from five different regions, and had a night full of fun, meaningful programming, and hanging out. We also raised $800 for our charity fund that night.”