People say that your twenties are when you really discover who you are. For me, this was certainly true and KOACH played a tremendous part in the formation of my adult Jewish self. My involvement over the last seven years has anchored me as a passionate, egalitarian, observant Jew at a time in my life when I really struggled with being affiliated with the Conservative Movement.
I came to KOACH in a different way than most, having already graduated from college and joined a small Conservative synagogue, but I was still not sure where where I fit in Jewishly. I had not gone to Jewish day school, hadn’t been involved in USY and never gone to Camp Ramah. I had no prior connection to the Conservative Movement but I had a sense that egalitarian, progressive Judaism was where I belonged. I was incredibly drawn to traditional observance but disappointed with its absence in most Conservative communities. I had not yet realized what a gem of a shul I had found!
I approached my rabbi about the possibility of applying to go on Taglit-Birthright Israel and he, without hesitation, encouraged me to do so. In 2006, I went to Israel for the first time with KOACH and it was exactly the experience I needed. I spent ten glorious days with other committed, observant young Jews, davening three times a day, studying at the Conservative Yeshiva, and, of course, visiting all the places you would expect: the Kotel, Yad Vashem, the Dead Sea.
One memory stands out for me in particular: We climbed Masada before dawn, which most birthright groups do. What was very special to me was that we carried a Torah scroll with us throughout the trip and davened wherever we happened to be. That morning, we watched a spectacular sunrise turn into a crystal blue sky as we davened Shaharit and read from the Torah in the two thousand year old ruins on top of Masada. As I put on my tallit and tefillin, I thought about our ability to create sacred spaces wherever we may be and how incredible it was to do this in a place where Jews had been driven out.
Later that year, I went to my first KOACH Kallah where I met even more committed young Jews who had the same thirst for serious text study in an egalitarian context and a desire to live in an observant community. I have since staffed five more kallot and each one nourished and energized me. These encounters helped me through the most difficult period of my twenties where, in the end, I think the most important thing was that I didn’t feel alone.
To say that KOACH kept me in the Conservative Movement may sound dramatic but I believe that it’s true. It solidified my identity as an egalitarian Jew and showed me a fulfilling vision of a Judaism I can embrace. A Conservative Movement without KOACH is hard for me to imagine.