There Is No CSJO Future Without CSJO Youth

By Jordan Shuster

They say that "children are our future" and as contrived as the saying may be, I can't deny its truth. I joined CSJO as a 14-year-old with no idea what I was getting myself into — all I knew was that I was finally old enough to go to the conference that my cool older sibling went to every year, where rumor had it there were unlimited snacks and no curfew. Of course, once I got to my first CSJO conference — held that year in Cleveland, Ohio — I found out it was so much more than that. I made friends from all over North America, participated in some very interesting workshops about every aspect of Jewishness, and even became close with some of the adults who regularly attend CSJO conferences, which I certainly was not expecting. And of course, I ate tons of food and stayed up to watch the sunrise. Suffice to say, I was hooked.

So here I am nearly a decade later, having been to nine consecutive conferences. I was elected by my fellow youth to be the teen conference coordinator for two straight conferences and after that, the young adult conference coordinator for another year. From there I transitioned to become a youth representative to the board and, finally, to CSJO's executive committee. All this is to say that not only was I hooked, but I knew I had to give back. I wanted to dedicate my time and efforts to ensuring that the CSJO I knew and loved continued to thrive for secular Jewish kids like me — some of whom were already attending the conferences and some who had yet to discover us.

Lately my efforts have been pointing towards youth outreach. I want to connect with teens and young adults who are already a part of our community, but who may not even realize it. For the most part, this means students at our affiliate organizations' schools, who are members of CSJO through their membership in their local community. My goal is to connect these teens and young adults across North America so that they not only have a great time at the conference together but have a network of friendship during the rest of the year.

To kick off this initiative, I recently had the privilege of visiting the Sholem Community in sunny Los Angeles, which was a nice change from snowy Philadelphia. I met with the students of Sholem's Vov and Hey classes and explained to them what CSJO is and what the conference looks like. I was thrilled to see their immediate excitement! I had no idea beforehand what sort of reaction I would face from these teens, but their response to my presentation was so far beyond what I could have hoped. And it probably didn't hurt that I brought candy and promised 50% off registration for any of them who went, as we always offer to first-time youth conference attendees.

I'm feeling incredibly hopeful about the future of CSJO's youth. We are excited and connecting with each other. As I continue to reach out to our affiliates' schools across North America, I look forward to bringing with me the excitement I saw at Sholem and being able to report back to the teens I met with good news from across the country. This year's conference — to be held in Cleveland, Ohio, just like my very first conference — is shaping up to be the very best yet!

The 2019 CSJO Conference will be held from Friday, May 24th to Monday, May 27th at Ursuline College in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. If you are interested in learning more about the youth of CSJO, the CSJO youth conference, or anything else, please feel free to contact me at

One Pitt Panther's Reaction to the Pittsburgh Shooting

By Madeline Burns

On October 27th, I was awoken by an automated phone call. "There's an active shooter in the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of the city. Find shelter." Fear flooded in. While I was safe in my bed in Philadelphia on that Saturday, I had no idea where my friends were, if they had gone to temple that morning, or if there were other shooters. I sat that entire morning with my eyes bouncing between the news on the TV and my phone, waiting for messages. Group texts came in — my friends marking themselves safe. Some shared that they were huddled in a basement in a different synagogue, or at Hillel that morning, or still in bed. I breathed again knowing my friends, the family that I had chosen, were safe. But then this profound sadness set in. I'd been around the Tree of Life Synagogue many times. Squirrel Hill is a predominantly Jewish section of Pittsburgh and right next to the Pitt and Carnegie Mellon campuses. I'd go food shopping there. I went there last year to buy supplies for the first Seder I'd ever hosted. I'd introduced my non-Jewish friends to kugel and matzah ball soup there. I felt safe there. In that same place, my friends were huddling in a basement, hiding from an armed man intent upon killing them. Images from past genocides came to mind, from the Spanish Inquisition to Russian Pogroms to the Holocaust. Up until that day, I'd thought of those things as history. Sure, someone might paint a swastika on another person's door, but they wouldn't lynch them on the street, right? Surely in 2018 we'd moved on. And yet, here I was, waiting for the names of the deceased to be published from this horrific attack. I remember wondering how many thousands of people had been in my position before, their sense of safety and security shattered, waiting for the names of the dead. Nearly all the optimism I had was gone — this was Trump's America, and those who hated us felt free to stand up and declare it for the world to see.

Later that day, though, I realized that wasn't the moral of this story. In less than six hours, a group called Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue raised over $25,000 for the victims to help cover medical bills, funeral arrangements, child care, and whatever else these families needed. As of the writing of this blog post, that amount has grown to over $238,000. People showed up in droves to sit shiva for the victims. Messages of support came from around the world, sharing in our mourning and offering prayers, strength, and shoulders to cry on. Churches brought kosher food to opened homes, and doctors and coroners were careful to be as respectful of religious laws for Jewish burials as possible. While various individual players have worn the Star of David on shoes, hats, or gloves, the Pittsburgh Penguins became the first U.S. professional team to put the star on its jersey, along with the line "Stronger than Hate," a gesture that would be similarly reflected by all the Pittsburgh sports teams.

On a more personal level, people who I hadn't spoken to in years reached out to me to see if I was safe, to see if I needed anything, to offer ears that would listen and arms that would hug. Through all this, I had a moment akin to the Grinch when he realizes that Christmas doesn't come from a store — maybe it means just a little bit more. Mr. Rogers, a famous Pittsburgher himself, once recalled the advice his mother gave him after the Kennedy assassination: "Look for the helpers." Seeing the way my city and my community around the world came together is what I am choosing to remember from that day and the days that followed.

Book Review: “Greenhorns: Stories”

By Joan Kurtz

Book Cover 2.jpg

A "greenhorn" is defined in Robert Slotkin's new book, "Greenhorns: Stories" as immigrants who "spend their lives scrabbling for a place in the nation, trying to figure it out and never quite getting it." His collection of short sorties is based on real experiences of some of his family members who came to the United States from parts of Russia and Poland at the beginning of the 20th century. The stories are poignant and sometimes painful retellings of Jewish immigration and eventual assimilation.

The words "greenhorn" and "Other Side" appear in all of the stories. Slotkin uses these words to compare life in Eastern Europe with its pogroms and persecutions to life in the goldene medineh or Promised Land where the streets of New York are not paved in gold but where there is poverty and cultural challenges. Families are uprooted from their shtetl and now have to learn how to be an American. The new generation usually can figure it out while immigrant parents stay locked in the past.

"The Gambler" depicts Aaron, a butcher, who flees to the US with promises to bring his wife and sons over as soon as he has the money. It takes four years but he finally can send for them. "But to do it he had made a great hole in his life, in their life, a hole empty with vast miles and years of absence." In finally accomplishing what he set out to do, "in winning, he lost."

Cousin Bella in "The Other Side" was born and raised on the Other Side but came to the states when she was eighteen. She was world-educated, financially secure and devoted to the arts. Though her eyes sparkled with warmth and caring, there was a dark side that could only be seen if looked close enough. In those cold eyes you could see the horrors she experienced before coming over to America, the ones she finally shared with her daughter much later in life.

Three other stories continue the immigration and assimilation tales. Slotkin concludes with a chapter on "Greenhorn Nation: A History of Jokes," most of which are not politically correct but help us to better understand how we identify as children of immigrants and are called Jewish-Americans.