Ben Daniels, on right, and Arin Pelletier of East Brunswick, N.J., attend a Wild West show during USY's 66th International Convention. Courtesy Adrian Baird, Endless Entertainment
Sign up. Wait. Book a flight. Wait. Pack. Wait. Finally, step through the hotel doors that lead to United Synagogue Youth’s (USY) International Convention, the Conservative youth group’s largest annual gathering where hundreds of teens join together for five days of celebration and learning.
Fly into the arms of best friends you’ve waited months to see; burst into the main ballroom singing your regional song with pride; and celebrate the organization that brought you to a place to experience and explore your Judaism. The wait is over.
The 66th annual International Convention was held in Dallas at the end of December. There I attended inspirational talks, a Wild West show and sessions about Judaism, Israel and how to be a proud Jewish teen. There were nearly 1,000 people in attendance and for each of us, the most impactful moment of the convention was different.
“Every year, my favorite part of convention is seeing the passion and enthusiasm each USYer provides to make [it] even better,” said Max Kopla, a junior from Cranford, N.J., and vice president of both the executive and Israel awareness committees of the Hagalil region.
Nowhere is this “passion and enthusiasm” more evident than during the convention’s Opening Session, the official kick-off to the event, complete with introductions from the co-chairs, speeches and a big Israeli-music-fueled dance party.
When entering Opening Session, one must be prepared for deafening music and a shaking floor. I saw hundreds of kids with pure, unadulterated joy on their faces; saw strong friendships; and recognized that passion for USY expresses itself in ruach, songs and chants.
Matan Kogen, a junior from Fair Lawn, N.J., said the diversity of religious services was his favorite aspect of convention.
When asked about the impact of these unique services, Kogen said, “Having creative minyanim allows USYers to explore different aspects of tefillah [and] better connect to it.” The diverse services offered at convention lets teens explore Judaism and develop their own connections to it. For Shachrit, the morning service, USYers are torn between relaxation and meditation services, where they concentrate on breathing, and Broadway services, where prayers are connected to favorite show tunes. Fortunately, there are several days of creative morning prayers which allow teens to sample minyans that interest them.
For Macen Lantzman, a senior from Livingston, N.J., one of the most memorable parts of the week was when she got to, “reunite with my friends from across the country.” The International Convention connects teens who haven’t seen each other in months or even years; they may have met on a USY Summer Experience, at camp or through other Jewish organizations.
This marked the first convention attended by members of NOAM Olami, the global Masorti/Conservative youth group. Fifteen teens from countries including Israel, Uganda, England, Argentina, Ukraine and Australia joined the festivities fulfilling the goal of making USY a melting pot for Conservative Jewish teens.
Though many think that the excitement, thrill and energy of sporting events is impossible to duplicate, USY’s International Convention does it in spades. Five days of excitement, thrills and energy, powered by ruach and joy from hundreds of Jewish teens, most certainly left its mark on each and every person who stepped through those Dallas hotel doors in December.