Free College Admissions Essays: Jewish Self-discovery
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"Sarah, we need your help in the Ukraine this summer. Can I count on you?" This question changed my life profoundly. I was asked to be a counselor on JOLT, Jewish Oversees Leadership Program, an opportunity to interact with young campers in an impoverished country and positively influence their lives. Little did I realize that this experience would impact mine so greatly.
JOLT, an outreach program, runs an annual overnight summer camp in the Ukraine with counselors from the United States and Israel. These counselors are carefully selected because of the rigorous programming and the many physical hardships of living in the Ukraine. Over one hundred local children come to Charkov to learn about their Jewish background. As one of the counselors, I had the privilege and extraordinary task of exposing them to the beauty of our religion and heritage.
I remember the anxiety and excitement that I felt as I exited the plane with twenty other high school students, embarking on my summer teaching experience, wondering if I was fully prepared. The moment the busloads of children arrived, I attached myself to a group of kids and started singing and dancing with them. Despite my initial fears, we began to form a bond. My role changed from that of a teenager to that of a responsible counselor. Not only was I here to teach them about Judaism through classes and activities, but more importantly I was acting as a role model. For the majority of Ukrainian children, we were the first Americans they had ever met and, therefore, were watched vigilantly and constantly emulated. This humbling realization made me feel rather self-conscious at first. However, their desire to imitate also heightened the impact of that which we taught them. They wanted to learn. Although an immense language barrier lay between the campers and me, we managed to communicate through translators, hand signals, songs, and broken English and Russian.
With the help of a book that contained both the Hebrew and Russian, I taught Hebrew to a group of ten children who had never before been exposed to Judaism. Glieb, a ten-year old boy rapidly rose to the top of the class. In addition to the mandatory hours of daily learning, he was motivated to extend these sessions. So often at night after the fun and entertainment, he and I would practice reading Hebrew and we discussed, in simple terms, aspects of Jewish ritual that fascinated him.