Why Are You Here?

by Rabbi Kimberly Herzog Cohen

It was 10:30 at night (12:30 Dallas time). We were in another windowless room, and it had been a long day of travel. But I was pumped. Why? Because I just witnessed 860 teens sing their heart out and delight in being together. The energy is palpable here at the Youth Engagement Conference, and I feel blessed to be part of it.

I entered the windowless room and encountered the question posed to the participants in the conference, made up of educators, youth group leaders, clergy and more: Why are you here?

I’m here because when I was a teen, a family in our synagogue reached out to my family. On a warm Los Angeles night, we sat in their sukkah and talked, and ate, and celebrated. They built a relationship with us, and cared. I’m here because mentors have nurtured my passions and interests and linked them to Jewish issues, because of the relationships along life’s path that have touched my Jewish soul. I have participated in meaningful Jewish programmatic experiences. And yet, I am not who I am, and I am not the rabbi or Jewish professional that I am, solely as a result of a specific program. I am because of people, and the way they invited me to participate in building Jewish community.

During this time together, we are invited to listen and share, and discover why others are here. We can begin, or continue, to align our commitment to building sacred communities of depth and vibrancy.

Olam chesed yibaneh, “the world will be built upon kindness.” At the closing to one of our sessions on Saturday, Jewish musician Dan Nichols led us in this song from Psalm 89:3. As I sang these words, my voice joining with those around me, I felt hopeful and challenged. We are here to build not for but with our youth and their families – and together discover, and re-discover, our sense of sacred purpose, our power to create change, and our story as Reform Jews.

Rabbi Kimberly Herzog Cohen serves Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, TX.