Written by: Alea Chedekel
My first day at my current internship was a blur. I was at the California Democratic Convention, collecting petition signatures and educating people about upcoming CA Senate bills. People approached me and asked point-blank what I was doing and why it mattered. Even though I had been put on the spot, I quickly rattled off an explanation of the potential legislation as well as what it meant to me. My boss turned to me and exclaimed that I was a natural and asked if I had done this before. I hadn’t read more than a few sentences on these bills prior to that day.
How was I prepared? I treated it just like a NFTY program outline, handed to me ten minutes in advance.
URJ Camp Newman and NFTY- Central West Region (CWR) are, always will be special places to me; however, I have known for a long time that my career aspirations exist outside of these communities. When I graduated from high school and NFTY, I made the decision to leave camp after my first summer on staff. I felt conflicted because many of the people I looked up to, and aspired to be like, were from the Jewish “bubble” and their careers fit neatly inside it. Sometimes I wondered if I would only be able to fit in the “camp world.” To my surprise, I have found camp and NFTY prepared me for both my education and career; I can “fit” anywhere. My passion for social justice stemmed from camp and developed further in NFTY. The skills I learned in my Jewish communities have directly served me in all my pursuits, employment and otherwise.
When I encounter a semi-skeptical citizen who I want to sign up as a volunteer, I think of the suspect high schoolers I persuaded into signing up for a NFTY weekend. When I speak to new volunteers or a crowd of people, I remind myself to stay on their level in order to get their attention, just like my NFTY Regional Advisor did. When I have to unexpectedly present the mission of my current organization, I flash back to my Camp Newman CARE philosophy pitch. My new idea for T-shirt incentives in our social media posts? The first time I did that was for a NFTY-CWR event.
My co-workers and bosses tell me I have a knack for public speaking and explaining our various organizational policy issues, but this was not something I always had. I learned these skills as a counselor in training (CIT), staff member and regional board member at Camp Newman and NFTY-CWR. Trust me, I was not born knowing how to best explain SB-24. I was, however, put in many situations where I needed to summarize an article, social action issue, or story for a program I led at camp.
I have gained so much more than just these job-specific skills. Camp and NFTY taught me to listen to others, lead on the fly, and pick out important information quickly. I have learned what types of information will engage others both via social media and face to face.
As a young adult, I have had my fair share of adults lecture me on “transferable skills.” I have also had many of my supervisors in the Jewish community tell me that these skills can be used in my future. To be honest, I thought a lot of it was just talk and the “real world” would be completely different. But you know what I realized? It’s not. Many of the same challenges, strategies and practices learned at NFTY can be used in a variety of communities and workspaces. The Jewish world is not so different from the “real world.”
The reality is this: it is vitally important for us as Jews to work on issues within the Jewish community. The work that Jewish organizations do for both Jewish and non-Jewish issues is admirable. However, I truly believe that Tikkun Olam requires us to interact, work and collaborate in non-Jewish spaces, which ultimately gives us a voice in the larger communities and world we live in. This is what I have experienced working in the reproductive rights and pro-choice movements.
In my office, I am the only Jewish person. While I acknowledge that this can be a challenge, it is also an opportunity. I have brought my experience from the Jewish community to better serve my jobs and internships. I connect and work with people from many backgrounds and use my Jewish values to inspire my work. I bring my passion, experience, Jewish values, and chutzpah into everything I do.
Alea Chedekel is a rising senior at American University. She will graduate this December with a degree in Political Science concentrated in Gender, Race, and Politics and a minor in Public Health. She currently works at The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) Pro-Choice California. A Bay Area native, Alea belongs to Temple Rodef Sholom, is a URJ Camp Newman alumna, and served on the NFTY-CWR regional board.