When Tomer Locker (10th grader in public school) first approached me about forming an NCSY Savannah JUMP team I had many hesitations. Savannah literally has a tiny Jewish population. Many cities that people consider small have at least 25,000-30,000 Jews.
Savannah has only 3,000 Jews! I began wondering who will run all these JUMP programs? Is it possible for 4 teens to run 4 events on a communal level? I told the teens that I will assist them as much as I could, but the ultimate responsibility to carry this through was on their shoulders. They voluntarily accepted this huge responsibility upon themselves knowing that it would not be easy. As the planning stages began I was blown away by their devotion to the challenge. Hours and hours were spent planning and organizing. All of this was done completely on their free time, outside of school hours.
Unfortunately, many teens (and adults) are scared to stand out as a Jew, when surrounded by non-Jewish friends. These JUMP teens are proud of their Jewish identity! They are probably the first Jewish teens in the past ten years or more who wear Kippahs every day in the Savannah high school that they attend. When we went to speak in front of over 350 non-Jewish teens about not texting and driving, I thought for sure they would not want to stick out as Jews. Once again, I underestimated their devotion! I was moved as Tomer got up to speak in the auditorium with his Kippah firmly planted on his head.
The teens encountered plenty of setbacks when planning events. However, this did not stop them or discourage them from pursuing their goal. I honestly have no idea how they could have accomplished so much through the natural course of events. My only explanation is that nothing stands in the way of 4 teens who are trying to hang on to, and strengthen, their Jewish identity, no matter what comes their way. The events they ran, and their passion for Judaism, have had a tremendous impact on both the Jewish and non-Jewish members of the Savannah Community.