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 firstname.lastname@example.org.